Central Virginia school system battles hackers as academic year begins

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CHESTERFIELD COUNTY, Va. (WRIC) — Unknown users are entering Chesterfield County Public School virtual classrooms – a trend concerning parents as the school year is barely underway.

WFXR’s sister station spoke with the parent of a freshman at Thomas Dale High School who recorded an incident involving an anonymous user in his virtual math class. Nicole Martin says the unidentified person made racist and derogatory remarks.

“Personally, I believe that’s a safety concern for our children,” Martin said. “He told me that the administrator came on and immediately shut it down and let the student know that if this continues to happen there will be consequences.”

Parents also mentioned incidents involving indecent exposure, profanity, cursing, drug use, and inappropriate music.

WFXR’s sister station has learned that the perpetrators are not affiliated with Chesterfield County schools.

In a letter sent home by Midlothian High School Principal Shawn Abel, students are warned about misconduct. The letter reads, in part, “A student that enters the wrong google meeting will be removed promptly. A school-issued consequence may be necessary if the student disrupts the class lesson. The consequences will vary based on the severity of the disruptive behavior.”

Martin adds the students are sharing log-in codes to others who aren’t in the class.

“It’s been a trend since they started online school back in March,” Martin added.

Martin told WFXR’s sister station parents are discussing a way to prevent hackers, suggesting that “instead of the students using the same code to log in to the school or the classroom, they can use their student ID number.”

Chesterfield County Public Schools sent the following in response to hackers in virtual classes: 

The school division has been made aware of a limited number of instances where students joined the wrong class and created a distraction, and an occasion where an apparent family member appeared on a child’s page and created a distraction. Our teachers have been fantastic managing this new online learning environment, and have reacted quickly when such a distraction is brought to their attention.  We are not aware of any non-CCPS accounts accessing online classrooms and have not been able to verify any reports of “hacking.” Nonetheless, we will be reviewing all processes with staff so that we continue to do everything possible to create a safe, supportive and nurturing learning environment. Please notify your child’s principal if your child shares that something out of the ordinary happened during class.”

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