Loudoun County parents outraged after some virtual classes interrupted by pornographic images, racial slurs

Loudoun County parents are outraged after the school district said some virtual classes were interrupted by pornographic images and inappropriate language, including racial slurs.

Mom Christine Hoyle said that in one of her daughter’s classes at Potomac Falls High School, a picture of male genitalia briefly appeared on screen.

“I was outraged, outraged, because the kids have already been through so much, they’re starting school, and we want to trust the school system has them safe and then this happens,” Hoyle said.

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Hoyle’s daughter wasn’t the only impacted student. A district spokesperson said they encountered similar issues at six of 95 schools.

Superintendent Eric Williams sent a letter to parents Friday, writing in part: “incidents occurred in several classes in which students joined the virtual environment of another class or school, used a racial slur or displayed inappropriate sexual or racist images.” He’d go on to say the incidents were contrary to the district’s core beliefs and commitment to racial equity and added that the students will be held accountable.

Cybersecurity expert Joel Schwarz, the managing partner of Schwarz Group, said Loudoun is far from the only school system to deal with these types of issues, but he added the problems were more common last spring when districts were just starting to use the technology.

“I would insist with schools, that we don’t use easily guessable passwords and that we use meeting id’s that are not broadcast widely, and validate anybody who gets those meeting ID’s,” Schwarz said.

Loudoun County officials said they’re taking steps to eliminate similar events in the future.

Read the full statement from the school district below: 

During our first week of school in a virtual learning environment, incidents occurred in several classes in which students joined the virtual environment of another class or school, used a racial slur or displayed inappropriate sexual or racist images.  These incidents are contrary to our core beliefs, our commitment to racial equity and other matters of equity as described in the LCPS Equity Statement, and to the expectations we have established for appropriate behavior by students in the virtual environment.  LCPS’ highest priority is the physical and mental well-being of our students and staff members, and we take these matters seriously. We reject and condemn the use of racial slurs and hate speech and we will not tolerate the display of inappropriate images; this behavior does not reflect our core beliefs. 

Although some may believe that it is acceptable to use expressions that are defined as racial slurs as a term of endearment to their friends, LCPS will not tolerate such language in a school environment. The display of sexually explicit and pornographic images is a violation of our Student Code of Conduct and will also not be tolerated. LCPS will also cooperate with local, state, and federal law enforcement agencies in investigations of computer intrusion, hate crimes, fraud, transmitting threatening communications, disrupting a public meeting, and any other use of an electronic device to commit a crime.  

As we adjust to a virtual learning environment, we will continue to teach and encourage positive digital citizenship skills, as well as hold students accountable for their behavior online. Students and parents should familiarize themselves with the Student Code of Conduct and be aware that disciplinary actions are being considered for violations of the Student Code of Conduct, as they would if students were displaying these behaviors in person. Teachers and administrators have been provided resources to prevent and respond to these incidents. Additionally, administrators are continuing to use both the Student Code of Conduct and the LCPS Protocol for Responding to Racial Slurs and Hate Speech when addressing disruptions in distance learning. 

We appreciate that these issues may cause concern for parents. We share those concerns, and school administrators are investigating incidents and taking additional steps to help eliminate these types of events from our learning environment. Actions include providing additional guidance and reminders to teachers about how to manage their environment, our expectations for effectively controlling classes, and sharing expectations for behavior with students.

We appreciate parents’ and guardians’ continued support as we address these issues.

Thank you. 

Eric Williams, Ed.D.Superintendent