During a livestreamed Seaside School District board meeting this month, listeners were hearing from board chairman Mark Truax and Superintendent Susan Penrod when 7 1/2 minutes in the screen was hijacked.
“At this time the meeting was interrupted by unknown parties, using racial slurs and profanity, as well as violent images,” the school district wrote in board meeting minutes. “Muting all participants did not stop the audio or video. All participants were put back into the waiting room while staff discussed how to proceed. After reviewing participants and setting all to be muted, the meeting was resumed.”
The resumption came with an immediate apology from the superintendent. “I’d like to apologize to everybody for what happened,” Penrod said. “Those words and video were very offensive. We do not tolerate that and I’m very sorry that happened.”
According to district policy, when a staff member learns of a potential bias incident, they will prioritize the safety and well-being of everyone impacted and promptly report the incident to the building or program administrator.
“Our district investigates any incident that involves hate or racist language,” Penrod said before Tuesday’s board meeting. “In addition, we adopted the policy named ‘All Students Belong’ in December, which requires us to report the results of our investigation to our staff and families.”
District policy mandates responding staff “recognize the experience of all persons impacted, acknowledge the impact, commit to taking immediate action, and prevent further harm against those persons impacted from taking place.”
The administrator will determine responsibility within 10 days of receiving the complaint. Responses aim to protect those impacted and provide “accountability and transformation for people who cause harm.”
If any party is not satisfied with the outcome, they may appeal the district’s decision.
Penrod called the incident “very frustrating.”
The investigation conducted by the district office and technology coordinator Don Mespelt determined the incident could have been caused by one or many different people using software to conceal their identities. Similar incidents have happened in districts across the U.S. and at other public meetings.
“We’re trying to work with Zoom to uncover the identities of the individuals,” Penrod said. “The school district is dedicated to providing equitable, safe, learning environments as well as inclusive, welcoming meetings, whether virtually or in person.”
For now, Zoom and Mespelt recommend following Zoom security recommendations and best practices to prevent further intrusions. The district may choose to disable the chat function during public meetings.
“We’re reworking the policy, the meeting format, and a lot of it has to do with public comment,” Truax said. “We haven’t decided what will be in place at the March meeting. It will probably be if you have a question, email it in beforehand.”