Editor’s note: This article has been updated to reflect the news that the Eden Prairie Police Department has determined the threats are non-credible.
On Tuesday, Dec. 19, Oak Point Elementary students and staff celebrated the school’s recent winning of a National Blue Ribbon Award with an upbeat school assembly and flag-raising ceremony in the gym.
What should have been purely a happy celebration of academic excellence took a disturbing turn for viewers who joined a Zoom call to livestream the event. These included Oak Point staff, parents, some students, and, as it turned out, unknown persons with ill intent.
One user said explicitly sexual things, and then posted pornographic images in the chat. Another posted a bomb and shooting threat. One of these users also verbally issued a bomb threat to Oak Point school.
This content was seen and heard by viewers, including staff and some young students who were watching the ceremony on Zoom in their classrooms.
In response, teachers reportedly muted the Zoom, blocked the screen, or turned off the call once they realized what was happening, but not before some students saw explicit images and heard explicit language.
Police were called to the school to investigate, and the school’s technology department reportedly quickly determined that the IP addresses of the users who posted the content were from out of state. It is unclear how the users obtained the Zoom link, but the link was not password-protected and did not require an access code.
Meanwhile, the assembly, led by Chris Rogers, Oak Point’s principal, was already taking place, with most of the school unaware of what was unfolding on Zoom. Students and staff celebrated, and Superintendent Josh Swanson and Associate Superintendent Carlondrea Hines were also present to honor the school.
Grace Becker, director of marketing and communications for Eden Prairie Schools, said there was no lockdown or change to the school day, and things continued as normal.
However, some parents who were on the Zoom call and saw and heard the threats, or heard about them from friends or on social media, came to the school to pick up their children early out of concern.
School and district response
Rogers sent a message to families via the district’s Talking Points system at about 1:45 p.m. that read, “We are aware that an unknown person or persons using an IP address out of the state accessed our Blue Ribbon Ceremony Zoom call this afternoon and said concerning things, including threatening violence at school.
“The Eden Prairie Schools Technology Department and the Eden Prairie Police are investigating, and all students are safe at school. We will share more information with you via email,” he wrote.
Rogers later sent an email shortly before 3 p.m. that read, “This afternoon, we hosted a Zoom meeting for families to be able to watch our Blue Ribbon flag raising ceremony. Unfortunately, two unknown people accessed this link and shared a pornographic image in the chat. They also used an automated voice to say concerning things, including a threat of violence at school.”
Rogers also said, “As soon as we became aware of this content, we ended the call immediately.” In fact, the Zoom call remained open and accessible to anyone with the link until it ended at 2 p.m. However, district spokesperson Becker said that teachers shut down their end of the call as soon as possible, and the school had been trying to shut down the entire call without success.
How many students heard the threats or witnessed the explicit content is unclear. Rogers said, “Our teachers had this Zoom call playing in their classrooms so students could see the flag be raised, and though some teachers had their volume off, some of our students may have heard what was said.”
About 10:15 p.m. Tuesday, Rogers emailed Oak Point families to inform them that the police had deemed the threats to be non-credible. His email was sent jointly with Hernan Estrada, principal of Eagle Heights Spanish Immersion, which shares a building with Oak Point.
The email said, “As always, we are grateful for our strong relationship with the Eden Prairie Police Department, who we alerted as soon as this incident took place. As of this evening, the police department has deemed this to be a non-credible threat, though they continue to investigate the source. As always, we will have a juvenile liaison officer presence in and around our schools tomorrow and through the rest of the week.”
Parents express frustration, concern
Some Oak Point parents expressed frustration that the incident was able to happen in the first place. “Why was this not a secure thing? Who knows who these people were, and what kind of sick person does this?” one parent said.
The parent added that their child heard explicit content and saw an extremely graphic image on the Zoom call.
Another parent echoed the concern about security, saying, “Why didn’t they use better technology to make sure the Zoom call was secure and better controlled? If the school wanted to share the link with the community, there should have been an access code and password.”
The Zoom call lacked the security measures that would have limited or prevented attendees from accessing the call, turning on their cameras, talking, or posting in the chat.
The same parent said she was concerned that the bomb and shooting threats were not being taken seriously enough, and that she wished there had been better and more detailed and substantial communication to parents who were not on the Zoom call. Instead, she said, parents had to rely on their children and social media for information about what happened.
District apologizes, reiterates commitment to student safety
On behalf of the school district, Becker said, “We are absolutely sorry this happened. We do our best to avoid situations like this. When they occur, we do our best to support students who might have been affected. We will learn from this moving forward, and put extra safeguards in place to prevent outside actors from accessing virtual events.”
She added, “Student safety is our first priority. We take these things very seriously, even when we have proof to show these were outside actors from other states.”
In his email, Rogers suggested parents and guardians could talk to their children about what happened, and reassure them they would be safe at school.
“We know hearing a message like this can be scary for children, and you may wish to have a conversation with your child if they were concerned by what they heard or saw,” Rogers said. “Please reassure them that our school leaders and our local law enforcement officers quickly helped, and that they are safe at school.”
Becker said that in response to this incident, counselors and social workers would be available to support students if needed.
“As students return to school tomorrow, the leaders will have a good sense of what students might be experiencing. If a need is sensed for that extra support, we absolutely will provide it,” she said.
Editor’s note: Eden Prairie Local News (EPLN) education reporter Juliana Allen was on the Zoom call, having been provided a link to attend the Blue Ribbon Award ceremony virtually.
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