On Monday Jan. 15, chemistry teacher Kavita Gupta hosted a study session for her AP Chemistry students in her classroom to prepare for an exam on Jan. 16 and 17. Numerous students attended, asking questions and taking notes. After attending the study session, junior Joshua Onozawa posted his notes in the AP Chemistry Facebook group, hoping that other students would be able to review and add to them.
“[Mrs. Gupta told me] it’s going to be good karma,” Onozawa said. “It’s for the goodwill, for the well-being of the entire class.”
Later that day, he returned to the document to realize that it had been severely altered by other users using Google Drive’s “suggesting” mode — large portions had been deleted and the font had been changed to make it unreadable. He later heard that the group chat had been filled with insults and derogatory terms.
Onozawa made the document “view only” after hearing about the issue, and although the document could no longer be changed by anonymous users, the incident was not over.
Assistant principal Andrew Goldenkranz was informed of the incident by Gupta who was emailed about it by junior Elika Hashemi. Goldenkranz visited Onozawa in his first period class on Tuesday and asked him about the events on the document of the previous night. The next day, Onozawa had a one-on-one meeting with Gupta at lunch, and by Thursday a majority of the students heard about the incident for the first time as Gupta began all of her classes explaining the events of Monday night, expressing her disappointment and urging any student involved to come forward with information. Gupta declined to comment on the incident.
“This was, I think, a real betrayal of the teacher’s trust because this was her Facebook domain that she puts up voluntarily to support students,” Goldenkranz said. “To have that kind of behavior in there, that’s really kind of the emotional equivalent of having it take place in the classroom.”
Junior Elika Hashemi witnessed the students writing the messages in the shared Google document on Monday night as she was studying for her chemistry exam. She noted that the individuals trying to mess with the document claimed they were trying to “save the curve,” and obscene language was used by multiple students: both those trying to mess up the document and those urging the document be returned to its original form. These individuals believed that by skewing the notes, the class average would be lower resulting in a higher individual score for themselves. As tension began to rise between a few students, Hashemi decided to take action.
“Nobody appreciates this, can whoever changed the doc please change it back to its original form,” Hashemi typed into the chat.
It was unclear how many students were participating in this discussion as all users were anonymous, and Google Drive generates a new viewer every time the page is reloaded. Without signing in, each individual is given an anonymous name, and that name would change every time they reloaded the page. Still, observing the racial slurs, Hashemi realized that she needed to take action. She took screenshots of the messages and emailed Gupta about the issue.
“People can say whatever they want in private … That’s their prerogative, but when they involve other people online, even if it’s anonymous, and you start using racial slurs like that [it’s not okay], and there’s where I drew the line,” Hashemi said.
When Gupta spoke about the issue a few days later with all of her classes, she mentioned that this incident was a low point in her career. She said the Facebook group in which the document and many other resources were shared would be deactivated for some time, and she doesn’t have plans of reopening it soon. She suggested that any student involved speak up because soon the incident may be taken to the police. After this, she had each student answer a series of questions regarding the Google Drive document and their interaction and involvement on a individual questionnaire.
Upon hearing Gupta’s thoughts, one junior, who we will refer to as Levi to maintain his anonymity, decided to speak to Gupta privately after the class discussion. He had not been the one to manipulate the study document, but he had used racial slurs in the chat while trying to convince the other student to revert the document back to its original form. While listening to Gupta, he felt increasingly guilty. By the end of her speech, he decided he should take ownership of his actions.
“I went to the back and told her — and there were tears involved too — and it was my first time doing something this bad,” Levi said. “She told me that [I] did the right thing to step up and [that]it’s a human reaction.”
Levi originally posted the swear words out of pure anger about the actions of another student. He immediately understood the problems with his actions and believes that Hashemi did the right thing in reporting the incidents, knowing that he crossed a line.
“That person, whoever told on us, they did the right thing, and I have to learn from my mistakes,” Levi said. “I can’t use that word again, and I can’t use another bad word again. I feel really bad for what I did and now because of me, the Facebook group is closed and all the help people needed from Mrs. Gupta, TAs and now all those resources are gone.”
After reporting himself, Levi had a discussion with Goldenkranz and his parents during tutorial, showing him which anonymous user he had been. Because this was his first disciplinary offense, Goldenkranz told him that they would not be reporting his two-day suspension to colleges. He also promised that he would not inform anyone of his actions, including his teachers. Somehow, however, a small group was made aware, and from there, he believes a larger portion of MVHS knows of his two-day suspension for this incident.
“This kind of stuff spreads really crazy at school and it just kept spreading — I really don’t like it,” Levi said. “I don’t like this popularity, it’s a bad type of popularity. I don’t want to be known to be the guy that did something bad and said bad things when he [was]mad.”
Though Levi is not the person who altered the document, he would like to sincerely apologize to his fellow classmates for his actions. He says he stepped out of his character as he felt under pressure, releasing unwanted anger that he regrets.
“I’m not that type of a person. I just let loose, and I need to know how to control that,” Levi said. “I just really want people to know that I’m really sorry.”
Although it seems as though many of the students have moved on from the incident, the owner of the doc, Onozawa wants MVHS students to remember that they should put morals before their grades.
“Even if you want a better grade, there are other ways to get a better grade,” Onozawa said. “Instead of just ruining other people’s work, how about you work by yourself and actually study.”