Berkeley High student linked to racist ‘screen hack’

Berkeley High Principal Sam Pasarow said the student responsible for Wednesday's screen hack has been identified. Photo: Lance Knobel
Berkeley High Principal Sam Pasarow (left) said the student responsible for Wednesday’s screen hack has been identified. Photo: Lance Knobel

By Emilie Raguso and Lance Knobel

Berkeley High School administrators say they have identified the student responsible for a “screen hack” in the library Wednesday that displayed racist threats against African Americans.

Berkeley High Principal Sam Pasarow said, during a press conference Thursday afternoon, that a student, believed to have been acting alone, was responsible for the message. The press event followed a peaceful protest and walkout undertaken by more than 700 students earlier in the day.

The identity of the student linked to the screen hack was discovered through “an in-depth technological forensic analysis,” Pasarow said. The student has since met with the principal and other administrators, and reportedly took responsibility for the messages.

The consequences have not been determined, said Pasarow. They may, however, include expulsion. It’s possible, he said, that the student may not ever be allowed to return to Berkeley High. Pasarow said school officials are concerned about possible retaliation against the student, and will not release any details that could be used for public identification, such as age, gender or race.

“My sense is the student acted alone,” said Pasarow. “The consequences are going to be pretty intensive.”

He also said he did not believe the student had “a real intention of harm.”

The messages called for a public lynching Dec. 9 and indicated support for the KKK.

Pasarow said earlier in the day that he plans to hold an all-school assembly at Berkeley High on Dec. 9 that will focus on the contributions of the African-American community.

He said, though he is generally a proponent of restorative justice practices, “because of the terroristic nature of what happened, I’m not sure restorative justice is effective.”

The Berkeley Unified School District has reported the case to the police department, but does not know whether criminal charges will be brought.

Officer Byron White, a Berkeley Police spokesman, said the case is still open and that investigators plan to turn it over to the juvenile probation department for consideration as to whether charges will be filed.

Pasarow said the message posted Wednesday was a screen hack, rather than a server hack. It was discovered by a parent volunteer.

District officials are looking into how the image got out into the broader community, and said they could not comment on that aspect of the investigation.

A student told Berkeleyside on Wednesday that a teacher distributed the image to several students after being concerned about the messages it promoted.

Update, 8:40 p.m. At 8:25 p.m., Principal Pasarow sent the following message to the BHS community. It appears below in full.

Dear Students, Staff & Families,

Today was an intense day at Berkeley High School and I am so proud of our students and teachers. Students protested peacefully today and student leadership was palpable. Students balanced impassioned advocacy with expressions of caring for one another.

After an extensive investigation conducted by site administrators and technology staff, and with additional resources from the school district and Berkeley Police Department, we were able to identify the student responsible for writing the hateful threats on a library computer.

While we acknowledge that there is a desire for additional details, we are bound by student privacy rights that we must respect. Therefore, all I can share is that we are considering all available consequences for the individual in response to the widespread hurt that these actions caused.

We will continue to make student safety our number-one priority. In addition to students’ physical safety, we will work to ensure our school culture is positive and inclusive as well as socially/emotionally safe. We realize that unless kids feel safe on many levels (physical, social, emotional, cognitive), the likelihood that they will achieve their intellectual and creative potential is compromised.

Teachers and students, in conjunction with administration, will determine what our next steps are related to healing the harm that has occurred in our community.

This has been a very difficult day-and-a-half at BHS, particularly for African American students, and I want to close by saying I am deeply proud of and moved by our students’ advocacy and commitment to social justice. My sense is that today’s demonstrations brought our school community closer together and I will work with our students and staff to make sure today’s positive momentum moves forward.

In Solidarity,

Sam Pasarow

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This story was updated shortly after publication to include information from the Berkeley Police Department.