A lesson on anti-racism given by the academic elite at Lowell High School in San Francisco turned hateful and obscene on Wednesday. Public posts spewed derogatory, anti-Semitic comments and racist messages about black people.
District officials said they were investigating the incident, adding that the system was apparently hacked in order to gain access, although it was unclear whether this was from the district or from outsiders.
Several black students said that given the ongoing racism in the school, they believe their peers may be behind the attack.
“This is Lowell behavior,” said Shavonne Hines-Foster, a senior at Lowell who is also a school board member.
After an anti-racism lesson, students were asked to share anonymous thoughts and ideas about the information, which was then posted by an adult moderator on Padlet, an online bulletin board program. But instead of posting thoughtful messages as directed, some messages – not approved by the moderator – contained pornographic images, anti-black and anti-Semitic slurs, and other hateful comments, officials and students said.
A message also attacked President Biden, using a racist epithet and anti-Semitic word, saying he should die. “For him. And for you, ”it said.
It is unclear how the perpetrators gained access to Padlet, which required the moderator to be bypassed, district officials said.
“These acts were not committed in ignorance; They wanted to uphold racism, anti-blackness and white supremacy, ”said an email to city and district officials that Hines-Foster wrote with other students and was supported by the Black Students Union. “Lowell and SFUSD have a history where black students continue to be marginalized and ignored when issues like racism and discrimination are raised.”
District officials said they disabled the forum and notified the district technology staff.
“We are outraged and regret that this happened on a day of history and unity, and we are all the more determined to continue to focus on reducing racism in our community,” Director Dacotah Swett said in a statement.
Lowell is one of the top performing public colleges in the country with an academically competitive admissions process.
More than 68% of the 2,900 students are either Asian-American or White, a disproportionate number compared to statewide enrollment, while less than 2% are African American and 12% are Hispanic or Latino.
A petition launched Thursday by math teacher Lowell and Black Student Union co-advisor Elizabeth Statmore called for a federal investigation into a possible cybercrime that affects the core functions of government.
The perpetrators would be held accountable through district policies or state and federal laws, district officials said.
In addition, counselors are available for Lowell students, they said.
“While we don’t yet know who was responsible for this act, we do know that racism persists in our community and is harmful to everyone, especially our color students,” Superintendent Vincent Matthews said in a statement. “We strive to find the perpetrators and ensure full accountability for this heinous act.”
School Board President Gabriela López said it was “disgusting” for students to have to deal with.
“This incident is unfortunately not an isolated incident and an indication of the deeper problems that our district must deal with,” she said.
This is not the first time the school has been forced to address racist incidents. In 2016, students left class to protest a sign they viewed as racist. And when the school board recently decided to make the school’s admissions process more of a lottery and academic selection for the next school year, many students felt that those who defied the plan were using encrypted, racist language.
Hines-Foster, the black woman, said she had seen many cases of racism in her school years and was called a racist surname by classmates. In one case, the perpetrator only had to write an essay on the origin of the word.
She said she had also experienced cyberbullying, stereotypes and outrage, including a college student who asked her if Hines-Foster’s mother, who owns a bakery, made fried chicken.
Michaela Pelta, a senior citizen of Lowell, said she wanted the administrators to address the derisive slurs against the Jewish community as well.
“The school has not yet addressed that this was also an anti-Semitic incident and has ignored emails from Jewish students,” said Pelta, the liaison officer for the Jewish student union on the west coast.
“The Jewish community is deeply hurt by the neglect we have faced and wants to be heard.”
Hines-Foster said that after initial complaints, the district responded with a form letter suspecting the system had been hacked and information technology workers were looking for the perpetrators.
In the email to officials, Hines-Foster’s students, Justine Orgel, and Lowell asked why the district appeared to be ruling out the possibility that their colleagues might be responsible.
Swett should communicate more fully with the school community about the incident later Thursday, district officials said.
“Taking responsibility for anonymous hackers completely ignores the rampant, uncontrolled racism at Lowell,” the email from Hines-Foster and other students said. “Lowell has become a breeding ground for racism. We urge you to consider the likely possibility that these were the actions of a Lowell student. “
Jill Tucker is a contributor to the San Francisco Chronicle. Email: [email protected] Twitter: @jilltucker