Column: Teach kids that social media threats are no joke

November 2017

The end of the first semester of the 2017-18 school year is just around the corner. District 202 has had much to celebrate – record-high academic achievement, a new contract with our teachers and certified staff, and our share of athletic success, among other high points.

However, one aspect of this semester has been troubling and challenging.

Several times already in the first four months of this school year, we have had to deal with suggestions of threats against our schools posted on social media, and the resulting frenzy of misinformation, confusion and anxiety among students, staff, and families alike.

Generally speaking, our staff have done a great job working with our public safety partners to address these rumors and postings.

We take each situation equally seriously. Yet each can earn a different reaction. We routinely debrief with law enforcement after each such incident, thoughtfully examine procedures and adjust communications or responses as appropriate.

For several years, District 202 has had established crisis response and communications protocols designed to minimize the impact of such challenges on our schools.

Yet we should not have to deal with this kind of situation at all.

I know that social media is a part of the world today. It is also true – just as has always been the case -- that adolescents often do not consider or understand the impact of their behavior.

Still, we should not have to spend precious district resources combatting rumors and falsehoods that interrupt the vitally important work our teachers, staff and students are doing every day in our classrooms.

Therefore, I ask our parents and guardians for your help.

Please talk to your students and stress the magnitude of their decision to post private feelings on social media – not to mention anything that resembles or can be considered a “threat.”

Help them understand that they can no longer simply say, “I didn’t mean it,” or “I was just joking.” Those days do not exist anymore. Students who are frustrated with school, friends, parents, or life in general, must find more appropriate ways to express their feelings. Our school community do not consider social media threats humorous or insignificant.

Most of all, emphasize that their short-term behavior will have long-term consequences, including the possibility of expulsion from school and even being arrested. Law enforcement can and will trace the digital footprint of social media threats. It is just a matter of time before the police will identify the author.

This certainly is not the message I want to deliver any time, much less as we enter the holiday season. I would also guess it is not the message parents and guardians want to hear.

However, it is unfair to continue to take time, energy and resources away from the 99.9+ percent of our students, staff and families who simply want to come to school each day, do their best in the class or at work and feel safe and secure in our schools.

Young people do not fully comprehend or appreciate the consequences for these mistakes. Please help them with that awareness. Likewise, District 202 will continue to do our part to educate students on the responsibility accompanying the use of social media.

Together – in this and all things -- we will continue to prepare learners for the future.

Dr. Lane Abrell

Superintendent of Schools

Plainfield Community Consolidated School District 202