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Westwood middle school students received racist messages through AirDrop app on iPhones

Students at the Thurston Middle School in Westwood were sent AirDrop messages on their iPhones that contained “highly inappropriate, offensive, and racist messages sent by anonymous users,’' Principal Michael Redmon wrote to parents this week.

The incidents took place this week when several students received messages that ridiculed President Biden and used a racial slur. In one case, a student was sent an “unkind image intended to make fun of the recipient.”

“The recipients of these messages communicated their feelings of upset and anger at having been targeted in this hurtful manner and have reported feeling violated by the use of anonymous messaging capabilities used to offend others and themselves,” Redmon wrote to parents on Wednesday. “These hateful messages were clearly intended to put down others and cause disruption — they have no place in our community.”

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Westwood Schools Superintendent Emily Parks also denounced the content of the AirDrop messages.

“The Westwood Public Schools strives to be a community that welcomes, supports, and appreciates all people and where all students feel a sense of belonging,” she wrote in a statement Thursday. “The use of racist or hateful language and symbols is a transgression against the community and has no place in our schools.”

In his letter to parents, Redmon summarized the incidents that have taken place this week:

– Several students received messages sent from an iPhone that contained a “username alias that included a racial slur (N-word).”

– Another student was sent “a username alias that used a vulgar phrase about President Biden” over the AirDrop app.

– A message one student received included “unkind image intended to make fun of the recipient.”

According to Redmon, an iPhone user needs to be within approximately 30 feet of the receiving iPhone user. It’s not a feature that can be blocked by the school’s Internet system, but must be disabled on the phone by the user themselves.

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In response, a school rule banning use of cellphones during the school day — “once unheeded” — will now be enforced. “In these incidents, cell phone use has moved beyond distraction to being destructive,” Redmon wrote, adding that students and parents can contact each other through the school staff.

Students will be able to share their views on the incidents, and a meeting on the incidents for parents is set for May 4.

“News like this is disheartening,” he wrote. “I want to emphasize that many of our students already provide leadership in this area and that the vast majority of our students come to school each day and make Thurston a positive place to be.”

The search for the sender of the messages is ongoing, and if a student is identified as the source of the AirDrop messages, they will face discipline, Redmon wrote.


John R. Ellement can be reached at john.ellement@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @JREbosglobe.