Nearly a month after unknown persons disrupted an Oak Point Elementary Zoom call with violent threats and pornography, Eden Prairie Schools emailed affected families on Wednesday, Jan. 17, to apologize for the incident and clarify future best practices for safe virtual events.
The email was sent after the school and district administration received multiple requests over several weeks from families, who expressed frustration and sought an explanation, an apology, and measures to prevent similar incidents in the future.
The Dec. 19 Zoom call had been set up so students, staff, and community members could virtually view a flag-raising ceremony at the start of an assembly to celebrate its recent National Blue Ribbon School award. Two unknown users gained access to the call and issued a verbal bomb threat, posted a written bomb and shooting threat, and posted pornographic images, all of which were seen and heard by participants on the call.
An email from EP Schools, signed by Chris Rogers, principal of Oak Point, and Grace Becker, the district’s director of marketing and communications, was sent on Jan. 17 to families from Oak Point and Eagle Heights Spanish Immersion, which shares a building with Oak Point.
The email stated, “As most of you know, on Dec. 19, unknown users gained access to a Zoom meeting link being used for Oak Point’s Blue Ribbon flag-raising ceremony after it was posted on the district’s Facebook page. Those users shared an inappropriate image in the chat and used a voice to say concerning things, including a threat of violence at school. Due to the threat of violence, this situation also affected Eagle Heights families.
“We want you to know how sorry we are. This situation should not have occurred, and we regret the impact it had on our students, staff and families.
“Oak Point — and all of our schools — should be welcoming, safe places for students to learn and grow every day,” the email continued. “Anything that takes away from a sense of safety and security at school is not acceptable. It deeply saddens us that this situation overshadowed what was a wonderful and well-deserved recognition for the Oak Point community.”
The email explained that the decision not to evacuate the building that day, and to proceed with the assembly despite the threats, followed guidance from the Eden Prairie Police Department (EPPD).
It also stated that the district has tightened its guidelines and procedures for hosting virtual events in the future. This includes a shift to using Zoom webinars instead of meetings, as webinars do not permit users to speak.
In addition, the email said regarding Zoom events, “In all cases, schools will designate an employee to monitor the chat and utilize additional controls like a ‘waiting room’ and registration to oversee attendees. Links to virtual events will be sent directly to families and other attendees via email, and if a link must be posted online, district employees will first confirm it has been created as a webinar and proper controls are in place.”
The email also encouraged families to read a message sent by EP Schools Superintendent Josh Swanson in October, which addressed how the district handles threats to the community.
Oak Point community members said they wanted ‘apology, explanation, and accountability’
The district’s Jan. 17 email was reportedly the first explanatory communication to families from the district in the four weeks since the date of the incident.
However, one parent said on Jan. 16 that she and many others wanted to hear three things specifically from Swanson: “apology, explanation, and accountability.”
Although some conversations reportedly took place between some parents and Oak Point’s Principal Rogers in the weeks after the incident, parents said that prior to this email, neither the district nor Oak Point administration had responded to requests to formally update all families.
On Jan. 8, four Oak Point parents, including members of the school’s Parent Teacher Organization (PTO), spoke with school board members, including Aaron Casper, Kim Ross, Charles “CJ” Strehl, Dennis Stubbs, and Steve Bartz, after the board’s annual organizational meeting and workshop at the district’s Administrative Service Center.
The parents told the board members that they felt the district had not taken their complaints seriously, had not been sufficiently responsive, and that they wanted the administration to communicate directly and fully to all families.
During the conversation, Casper told the parents that “mistakes were made” regarding the situation and that he would relay their concerns to the superintendent.
The day after this conversation, on Jan. 9, Oak Point PTO member Roberta Monte, one of the four who spoke with the school board, wrote to board members Casper, Ross, Strehl, Bartz, and Superintendent Swanson. She recapped the post-meeting discussion and requested an in-person meeting with Swanson.
In her email, Monte said parents still wanted to know why the district shared the Zoom link publicly on Facebook instead of emailing it directly to families, and why it wasn’t secure. She also questioned why a district-wide email had not been sent following the incident, compared to when online threats to the Central Middle School (CMS) community were posted in October. She also wanted to know why EPPD gave an “all clear” when the threat had not been definitely confirmed as non-credible.
On Jan. 17, a few hours before Rogers and Becker sent out their email, Monte emailed Swanson and the school board to express her disappointment at not receiving any acknowledgment of her message or request to meet.
She said of her Jan. 9 email, “The concerns raised are significant, and I believe they warrant your attention. As per the School Board Governance Policy (EL 2.3), it is outlined that concerns directed to the superintendent should be acknowledged and handled by the district in a timely and respectful manner. I believe I have adhered to the standards of justification, and I am requesting the same commitment from you.”
Families concerned over adverse impact on children
Other parents echoed Monte’s concerns and frustration over the lack of communication with families.
They also said despite their students being “adversely impacted” by this exposure, they had received no offers of support from the school or district. One parent said given the absence of access to counseling sessions or a school social worker, their family planned to seek private mental health counseling for their child.
“My daughter is afraid to go to school,” the parent said. “She heard the threat in class and then without any reassurance that it wasn’t a real threat, had to go with her class to the gym where the entire class was packed in for an assembly. She was really anxious and … she is still worried.”
Parents also said it was “distressing” that their children were exposed to pornographic images, especially at a young age. “My son was not ready to see that, and I wasn’t ready to have this conversation with him,” said one mother. “They were at school, in their classroom, doing a school activity. This should not have been the time and place he was exposed to this.”
Parents also said it concerned them that anonymous people on the Zoom call could see their children sitting in their classrooms, with the name of their child’s classroom teacher clearly labeled over the video feed. They said they were worried that their children’s safety had been compromised.
EPPD: Investigation still ongoing
Meanwhile, four weeks since the Dec. 19 incident, the identities and locations of the perpetrators remain unclear.
What is clear is that no violent incidents took place that day at school. It appears that there was no viable threat, although how this was determined has not been shared publicly by EPPD or EP Schools.
On Jan. 16, Kari J. Knoll, EPPD’s senior communications coordinator, said, “We aren’t able to share specifics, but the EPPD uses several investigation tactics to determine whether a threat is credible. We take reports of this nature very seriously and always make the safety of students and staff members top priority.”
Knoll also said that EPPD is still investigating the incident.
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