It’s always been difficult for students—especially students of color—to escape exposure to racism and other forms of bigotry in schools. This is as true for students learning virtually due to the pandemic as it is for students learning in person because the internet—which students rely on for their educational needs—ensures that anyone can be reached. Since the coronavirus pandemic began, stories about racist “Zoombombing” and other offensive spamming efforts plaguing the online conferences of schools and businesses have been reported constantly, and there’s no denying how disruptive it can be, especially for young people trying to receive an education.
An entire Florida school district was flooded with more than eight million emails that contained racist or otherwise “disgusting” messages and were sent to students all over the county, according to school district officials.
The Associated Press reports that high school and middle school students in Seminole County began receiving the emails on Saturday, and on Tuesday, school officials were still scrambling to delete all of the messages despite the mass spamming effort having been blocked from reaching students’ accounts the same day the emails started flooding the district.
Many emails included racist and derogatory messages, with some referencing Russia and its president Vladimir Putin, school district spokesman Michael Lawrence told the newspaper in an email.
He said one batch of emails sent to students at Hagerty High School and Crooms Academy contained a link to a video reportedly showing a beheading.
The district said no student or district data was breached, and the effort did not disrupt any district operations.
“Our Information Services Department and local law enforcement has been alerted and are working diligently to remedy the situation,” the school district said in one of several messages sent to parents. “In the meantime, please let your students know that if they have received any of these emails to DELETE THEM IMMEDIATELY!”
Lawrence said the emails appear to have been generated by a bot.
“When will my 10th grader stop getting these disgusting emails??” one mother wrote on the district’s Facebook page Monday. “She’s been getting them since Saturday and they keep coming in and I keep telling her to delete them. They are coming at such a rate that she’s losing important emails from her teachers in the midst of them.”
According to Newsweek, one student, Riley Jackson of Hagerty High School, said she received around 986 emails.
“People are getting emails from people they don’t know and it’s kind of scary in a weird kind of way,” Riley said. Riley’s mother, Betty Jackson, echoed her daughter’s sentiments saying, “It’s very concerning as a parent and I don’t appreciate it,” and that officials “need to find out what’s going on and you need to stop it.”
Some of the messages sent out included racial slurs, and one contained sexually explicit comments directed toward a school employee. Other messages featured a photo of George Floyd under the caption, “Black lives don’t matter.”
School district officials told students’ parents that “the emails are coming from both Gmail and Protonmail email accounts,” Newsweek reports.
Lawrence told the Orlando Sentinel that the spamming is being investigated by the school district’s information services department, the Seminole County Sheriff’s Office and Microsoft.