A Dunloggin Middle School virtual learning session was disrupted last week by other Howard County students who interrupted the class by showing pornographic images and using derogatory and racist language.
According to an Oct. 9 email sent to parents from Dunloggin’s principal, the students from other county public schools entered the Google Meet video conference before the class on Oct. 8 and presented one of their screens.
“Pornographic images were displayed and racially charged language was directed to the teacher and students,” Dunloggin Principal Antoinette Roberson wrote in the email.
Roberson then sent another email to parents Monday, which said the Dunloggin leadership team, in conjunction with the Howard County Public School System, had finished an investigation into the incident.
While Roberson wrote in the Oct. 9 email that the meeting was believed to be accessed from people outside the school system, she confirmed in her email Monday the students were from other middle schools in Howard County. She added the Google Meet “link was left open by another teacher,” which allowed the students to access the video conference before the start of the class.
School system spokesperson Brian Bassett declined to answer specific questions about the incident, but he did provide a statement about disruptions on Google Meet — which all Howard County teachers are using for online learning amid the coronavirus pandemic — and the security of virtual classes.
“Teachers and staff take steps to ensure the security of their virtual classroom, but there is not a mechanism to prevent disruptions when a classroom code is shared with anyone outside the class,” Bassett wrote in an email. “When disruptions do happen, teachers respond as quickly as possible to block the disruptor or end the meeting and set up a new code.”
Roberson and the Dunloggin teacher both declined to comment on the incident.
Bassett did not answer questions about how the students who disrupted the class received the Google Meet link or code, how many students were involved, what specifically was said or what the punishment is for offenses like this. He did, however, say “unexpected classroom interruptions” have occurred nine other times since virtual learning began in April.
In addition to the class disruptions, the Howard County Association of Student Councils meeting on Wednesday was interrupted by someone who also “displayed pornographic images and hateful speech,” according to an email sent to Howard County middle and high schools communities Thursday. The school system said it is still investigating that incident.
The day after the classroom disruption at Dunloggin, Roberson, as well as a school counselor and a school psychologist, spoke with the students in the class about the incident. Roberson wrote in her email that ongoing support would be provided to the Dunloggin students if needed. She added that the students who interrupted the class would receive “appropriate consequences,” and staff will have another training on ensuring “secured and personalized” Google Meet classes.
“The circumstances surrounding [the Oct. 8] Google Meet class were extremely unfortunate and certainly did not present the safe and orderly learning environment we desire to promote at Dunloggin,” Roberson wrote in her Oct. 9 email. “For that, we apologize profusely and assure you that this will not be the experience in our virtual learning space.”
While the Google Meet links are secure from being hacked from people outside the school system, Bassett said students and families can help prevent these disruptions from happening.
“Students play an essential role in maintaining a positive classroom environment, and we encourage parents and guardians to review the expectations, including logging in to classes using their HCPSS credentials, contacting their teacher to resolve any issues and refraining from sharing their access codes to enter classrooms,” Bassett said.
Colleen Morris, the president of the county teachers union, said Thursday that although she had not heard about the disruption at Dunloggin, incidents like it are a small minority of interactions between students and staff during virtual learning.
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“This is not the majority of situations I’m hearing about,” Morris said. “The majority is students and staff giving each other grace and consideration.”