Police and school officials in Westwood, Massachusetts are investigating after inappropriate and racist messages were sent anonymously to the phones of Thurston Middle School students and staff via AirDrop this week.
School principal Michael Redmon called the incidents “damaging and disturbing” in a letter sent to parents on Wednesday.
“This week, students and staff reported receiving highly inappropriate, offensive and racist messages sent by anonymous users through the AirDrop feature on their personal iPhone devices,” he said.
Redmon said a student received an AirDrop message “with a mean image intended to mock the recipient.” Another received a message from an iPhone with a username alias that used a vulgar phrase about President Joe Biden. Several students said they received AirDrop messages from an iPhone with a username alias that included a racial slur.
AirDrop is an iPhone feature that allows users to instantly share various media between devices. Phones with AirDrop capability can be reached when something is sent to those phones within a radius of about 30 feet. Users can also change the name of their device to whatever they choose, making it difficult to determine who sent the messages.
“The recipients of these messages communicated their feelings of anger and anger at having been targeted in this hurtful way and said they felt violated by the use of anonymous messaging capabilities used to offend themselves and others,” Redmon said. “These hateful posts were clearly intended to put others down and cause disruption – they have no place in our community.”
Westwood police said they are aware of the complaint and that it is being investigated by the school department and school resource officer.
School officials said they do not tolerate racist, offensive and harassing behavior and asked parents to discuss the situation with their children.
“The matter is of great concern to us,” school superintendent Emily Parks said in a statement Thursday. “Westwood Public Schools strives to be a community that welcomes, supports and appreciates everyone and where all students feel a sense of belonging. The use of racist or hateful language and symbols is a transgression against the community and has no place in our We will continue the important work of helping our students learn to treat each other with dignity, respect differences, and use technology ethically.”
Redmon said Thurston Middle School already has a rule limiting cellphone use during the school day, but acknowledged it hasn’t been enforced in recent years. He said the school would strictly enforce the policy going forward.
He said the school also plans to set up additional opportunities for students to discuss this week’s incidents and their impact on the community. And he said there will be an evening program for parents on May 7 focusing on the use of social media.
“I recognize that news like this is disheartening,” Redmon said in his letter. “Our efforts as a school district to educate students to be kind, caring people who make good decisions, treat others well, and reflect on the impact of their actions are ongoing, long-term work. I want to highlight that many of our students are already showing leadership in this area and that the vast majority of our students come to school every day and make Thurston a positive place. This spring, I plan to further highlight the accomplishments and the caring spirit of our students. I welcome the opportunity to discuss with students other ways to have a positive impact on our community.”