Op-Ed: MHS Back to School Night Halted by Zoom Bombing

The past year has been incredibly stressful and difficult for almost everyone. From the protests in June to the pandemic, it has been incredibly tense. Remote learning adds to the never-ending lists of challenges to the year due to the number of technical issues it presents and the wall it creates between students and teachers. During the Back to School Night Malden High School hosted on October 21st, 2020 to help students and parents alike adjust to remote learning, the vulnerabilities of the system were exploited to allow a disgusting attack, more specifically, a “Zoom bombing” to occur.

According to Vice, a “Zoom bombing” is when an attendant breaks into a Zoom call and puts up disturbing images and videos. Ever since the pandemic started, Zoom has become a valuable tool to companies and schools, allowing people to meet in a socially distanced manner. Bombers abuse this heavy use of Zoom in order to carry out their attacks.

Initially, Principal Chris Mastrangelo attempted to remain calm and remove the participant. He stated that “in [his] mind, [he] knew that there were 300 people who needed to process it.” After 15 seconds, he and Ms. Northrop decided to end the meeting knowing it was the only way out. He added that he was “utterly devastated in every way possible.” 

After shutting down the meeting Mastrangelo stated that “within 5 minutes [the administration] was in a Google Meet.” Their goal was to figure out “what [they] needed to do and who [they] needed to contact in order to get support in place. A few minutes later, he was meeting with teachers to get their insight on what their response to students should be, as well as social workers to their support for staff and students. 

Superintendent John Oteri stated that the fact that Malden “staff, students and families had to hear something like that [was] terrible.” He immediately “contacted the police to make sure [they] got the proper people there.” Initially, Oteri had sent an email stating that classes may be canceled the next day, but many of the staff protested, saying it would “give the [people] who did it a sense of victory, that they accomplished what they wanted,” since at that point in time the attacker was unknown. The police quickly determined that it was not someone from Malden, and that the IP address was overseas and heavily masked in order to make it untraceable. Oteri added that “the comforting part was that it wasn’t anyone from our community.”

History Teacher Rebecca Corcoran stated that she was in shock when she witnessed the event. She was shocked that “people make the choice to not only disrupt a meeting that they have nothing to do with, but in such an offensive and violent manner.” Corcoran believes that administration did the right thing, allowing “staff to work through it with students the next day.” However, she was surprised that nobody really spoke about it after a week or two, saying that it felt like “it happened, we talked about it, and now we’re moving on,” which she thinks is strange. “I don’t think it’s a closed book yet.”

Billy Zeng, founder of MHS Students for Racial Equity, stated that when he found out, he was in shock. “We always think that it won’t happen to us, but then it actually does” and while he did not witness it himself, the descriptions he heard of the incident motivated him to invest even more time in MHS Students for Racial Equity. Originally, the group was known as MHS Curriculum Reform Youth Board, however, as the group met with staff and administration, the group rebranded into the MHS Students for Racial Equity. While Zeng stated that “[they are] still in the works at organizing [themselves] internally” he did confirm that one of the group’s goals is curriculum reform. He expressed that the incident was really a learning moment, where you think “this is why we do this work, and this is why [it is] so important.”

A few days after the incident MHS Staff and Students for Racial Equity put out this statement and petition. It states that there is a lack of transparency and proactivity regarding social justice issues throughout the school. It called for more communication between staff and students, as well as the creation of a space where staff and students can talk about race and equity rather than the current strategy of reacting to problems when they show up.

The sadness of the situation is that after a couple of weeks, it was essentially forgotten, despite the magnitude of the event. What we should have done was taken as a learning moment to make bigger changes, things like transparency with administration and the encouragement of an environment where we can discuss these issues openly, instead of waiting until something terrible happens. Through these actions, we can move forward stronger than before.

For further reading on the Racial Justice Forum, click here

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