Teachers, parents, administrators and trustees have come together to ask parents to be more careful about what they say on social media.
In a letter sent home with every student in School District 5 at the beginning of the month, parents were encouraged to raise any concerns with a student's teacher, principal or the district office, rather than airing the concerns on social media.
"While we understand that sometimes a parent may be unhappy with a situation that developed in school, voicing those concerns on social media and/or the subsequent conversation has sometimes resulted in statements that have been taken as threatening or bullying," reads the letter.
It's signed by Lynn Hauptman, SD5 superintendent; Frank Lento, chair of the SD5 board of trustees; Kate Noakes and Shelley Balfour, chairs of the Cranbrook and Fernie Teachers Association; Scott Holt, president of the Southeast Kootenay Principals' and Vice Principals' Association; and Debbie Therrien, chair of the District Parent Advisory Council.
Lynn Hauptman said the letter came about after the teachers association and school district began to talk about the use of social media by parents to share complaints about things happening in the schools. The other organizations quickly agreed that they were seeing similar problems.
“What came up is that there were a number of times that comments from the general public, often parents, were being directed to the schools or individuals within the schools, that then other people would start to weigh in on. Some of the comments became very inappropriate and sometimes even threatening,” said Hauptman.
“Sometimes it’s a parent against another parent who was volunteering in the school. We’ve had it where it has been against the principal and a decision that had been made, or a teacher and something they were doing in the classroom.”
Hauptman said that the district understands that people will get upset from time to time with something their child experiences in school.
“We understand that sometimes people are going to be unhappy about something that happens in school. That’s a given – not everybody agrees with everything that happens all the time. However, let’s deal with that in a way that actually reaches a level of understanding as opposed to just creating a bigger problem through the use of social media.”
The letter asks parents to speak to someone about their complaint, rather than turning to social media.
“What we’re asking people to do instead is, if you do have an issue about something or you’re not sure about something you have heard, the best way to deal with that is either to talk directly to that person or come and see the principal or phone me as the superintendent, but not try to direct something in a public forum, because in the end nothing gets resolved,” said Hauptman.
It’s important that parents remember that they are role models for their children in the appropriate use of social media, the letter says.
“We want our parents to be modelling the same type of use of social media that we want our children to do. We need to make sure that in our society, social media is used in a safe and respectful way by everybody,” said Hauptman.
Educators are now addressing social media use with students on a daily basis in schools, she went on.
“Social media is probably the thing that has changed the most in education, in terms of the bullying behaviour that we see students make to one another that happens on the weekend but then we deal with it in the school on Monday morning,” said Hauptman.
“This is a societal problem – it’s not just unique to our district, it happens everywhere. But we just need to keep reinforcing how we use social media in a way that it is helpful to people instead of harmful.”