When Oyster Bay-East Norwich school officials met with parents over Zoom on Thursday to go over reopening plans for the fall, someone interrupted the meeting with inappropriate images and sounds, Superintendent Laura Seinfeld said.
The act of breaking into a Zoom meeting — or hacking it — has become a nationwide trend known as “Zoom bombing.” The trend emerged in recent months after the coronavirus pandemic caused many people to meet virtually instead of in person to reduce the spread of the virus.
“Regrettably, at one of [the forums], someone decided to take advantage of this and use it as an opportunity to post hateful content that was racist, sexist, and indecent,” Seinfeld said in an email.
Seinfeld said the content was “hate speech,” adding that it was “reprehensible” and “[does] not represent the values of respect, kindness, and acceptance in our district, or in our community.”
Like school districts across the state, Oyster Bay-East Norwich has been holding parent forums over Zoom to consider plans to reopen this fall. The district’s plans say that grades from pre-K to six will return five days a week, as will grades seven and eight, but they will do so in cohorts to limit the number of students. Students in grades nine through 12 will attend on an alternating-day schedule.
The hacked Zoom meeting was intended for parents of students in grades seven and eight.
“Very inappropriate pictures and text appeared on the screen, while vulgar language was used and comments were made for all to hear,” Oyster Bay High School Principal Sharon Lasher said in a message to parents after the disruption.
Lasher said the officials contacted the school’s technology supervisor “and she was able to remove these hackers.”
The incident was reported to the Nassau County Police Department and “we will insist that an investigation take place and those responsible for this heinous act be held accountable,” Lasher said.
Nassau County police said they were working with the school district to identify those responsible for the hacking and police are seeking to make arrests.
There has been an increase in individuals breaking into Zoom meetings in the region, Det. Lt. Richard LeBrun said.
A Suffolk County police spokesman said the department hasn’t received any reports of hacked Zoom meetings.
“When used as an educational tool, the settings in Zoom are much stricter and limit access,” Seinfeld said. “We are also exploring other options for public meetings to prevent this from happening in the future.”
With John Asbury