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Police investigating after hacker exposes himself to Gr. 4 TDSB students during virtual class

Last Updated Jun 15, 2021 at 6:10 pm EDT

A student takes part in an online learning class during the COVID-19 pandemic. UNSPLASH/Glenn Carstens-Peters

Concerns are being raised about online safety after a hacker was able to enter a Toronto District School Board (TDSB) virtual classroom and expose himself to a group of Grade 4 students — an incident in which the TDSB took almost a week to alert police.

The incident happened last Tuesday when students from two classrooms were online doing independent work, led by an occasional teacher.

TDSB spokesperson Ryan Bird said it was a parent who noticed the hacker was exposing himself and flagged down a teacher.

“When it was brought to the teacher’s attention, obviously, they were kicked off immediately and they talked with the students. We sent home an initial notification to parents of the impacted classrooms to let them know what happened.”

“We then followed up with staff about safety features in virtual classrooms. We talked to students in a school-wide assembly to discuss online safety,” added Bird. “This is disgusting, inappropriate, [and] It shouldn’t have happened.”

The virtual exposure was not reported to Toronto police until Monday, six days after it happened and the same day CityNews began contacting the TDSB about the incident.

When asked why the TDSB did not alert police immediately, Bird claimed it was due to a delay in speaking with staff and “a bit of a misunderstanding.”

When questioned further, he said: “I think the concern was in the initial communication that people were not aware it was a man that had done it, as opposed to a young student, so it was initially treated a bit differently. But, I can tell you, once all the people essentially got on the same page and understood what had happened, we made sure to immediately notify Toronto police and Children’s Aid Society.”

The Toronto police’s Cyber Unit has now been assigned to this indecent exposure case. Const. David Hopkinson is encouraging everyone who works or does school online to adjust their privacy settings.

Hopkinson said the so-called “zoom-bombing” is happening more often and the virtual attacks are becoming more disturbing. “The allegations are disturbing. We are seeing, you know, more and more of this occurring.”

“It’s not just a distasteful picture, but pictures and video that border on hate crime material, that are child sexual abuse and pornography. These images and videos are criminal and we will investigate,” said Hopkinson.