Eastview Middle School in Red Deer was in lockdown Tuesday afternoon. Hundreds of parents waited outside the school for their children to come out safely. File photo by Mamta Lulla/Advocate staff

School officials challenged to stay ahead of social media speculation when incidents occur

School division quickly sent texts and emails during Eastview Middle School incident

You could measure in minutes — probably seconds — how long it took for word of a gun incident at Eastview Middle School to hit social media.

Many of the hundreds of parents and other bystanders gathered outside the locked-down school surrounded by heavily armed RCMP on Tuesday afternoon had cellphones in hand looking for word on what was going on.

Red Deer Public Schools was quick off the mark, mass-texting updates reassuring parents that all were safe inside. Later, they were told students were being dismissed classroom by classroom.

“We really tried hard to put out a message (mass texts and emails) about every 10 to 15 minutes letting parents know what the situation was, and quite early, we were able to say that it was safe in the school and that we were just making sure that we could account for all students,” said Red Deer Public Schools superintendent Stu Henry.

Locked-down students are told not to use social media until the all-clear signal to keep a lid on rumours spreading, worrying relatives and friends.

Three teens have been arrested and are facing charges of possession of a weapon and carrying a concealed weapon under the Criminal Code, as well as disturbing or interrupting proceedings of a school under the School Act.

In the social media age, getting the official word out quickly and getting ahead of Instagram, Snapchat or Twitter speculation and rumour mongering is critical for schools.

In a letter to parents on Thursday, Eastview principal Kevin Robertson said both the school and RCMP are aware of the concerns generated by social media commentary about the incident and what supposedly led to it.

“They are being addressed and monitored as needed,” he says, reminding that social media information may not be accurate and to rely on official statements from RCMP or school officials.

School officials were concerned enough about some social media posts to pass them on to the RCMP, said Red Deer Public Schools community relations director Bruce Buruma.

“Some of those, I think, are trying to create mischief and trying to create concerns and raise those levels of concern and anxiety,” said Buruma. “And there are consequences of that.

“We’ve actually asked the RCMP to take a look at some of the social media posts. People need to be responsible on social media in terms of what information is shared, sharing of identity or specific details that elevate the situation.

“The reality is (social media) is a source of news now. Everybody can be a reporter,” he said.

But when inaccurate information starts floating around and shared so effortlessly, “it does become a challenge to manage the situation and trying to respond appropriately and provide safety and security, which is our top priority.”

Buruma said those who think they have information connected an incident should be sharing it with the school or RCMP.

The implications of social media and how students should respond has been discussed in the classroom since Tuesday.

Buruma hopes that families see this incident as an opportunity to talk about responsible social media use and how to respond if students get wind that something is brewing and who to tell.



pcowley@reddeeradvocate.com

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