Parents rap school over handling of social media threat

A rural Manitoba school division is hosting a public meeting to discuss communications after a threat posted to social media left some parents feeling the situation had been mishandled.

They will meet with education officials, RCMP on Thursday at Niverville Collegiate Institute

School administrators, members of the RCMP, concerned parents and the public will meet at Niverville Collegiate Institute Thursday night to discuss handling social media threats. (RCMP)

A rural Manitoba school division is hosting a public meeting to discuss communications after a threat posted to social media left some parents feeling the situation had been mishandled.

"It made a scary thing scarier," said Barry Piasta, who has a 15-year-old daughter at Niverville Collegiate Institute in Niverville, about 30 kilometres south of Winnipeg.

Around 10:30 p.m. Tuesday evening, RCMP were alerted to a post on Instagram showing what appeared to be a firearm and the comment that school would be fun the next day at Niverville Collegiate.

Police dealt with it that night and determined the firearm was a pellet gun. They questioned a 16-year-old student from the rural municipality of Tache about the incident, and the investigation continues.

However, Piasta says he and other parents didn't know any of that when they sent their children to school Wednesday morning.

Instead, he found out from his daughter, who texted his wife from school that morning to say there had been some kind of threat on social media involving a gun.

"What was happening at this time was that all the kids were talking, right? And of course, you know, mixed up facts, some uninformed facts," he said. "A lot of kids were getting scared."

He did eventually get an email from school administrators stating the threat had been addressed, but not until shortly after 10 a.m., he said. He feels like that should have happened much sooner.

"It was just handled wrong," he said. "As parents, we have the right to be angry with them and the right to be concerned."

Superintendent responds

Randy Dueck, superintendent of Hanover School Division, which includes Niverville Collegiate, says he's heard that criticism from parents in the day and a half since the threat. He says the division is working to address the situation and learn from it.

"I think there's absolutely something to that," Dueck said.

"Certainly, for me, I've been relieved all along that this isn't as major as it could have been. I'm also very aware that we have some challenges of communication that we need to get better at. We will."

Dueck says the division already has a crisis management protocol that's been shared with school administrators. However, the incident happened at night, and the school staff member who was informed of it wasn't the principal, who ordinarily starts the process.

Obviously, we need to acknowledge that this was scary for everybody.- Randy Dueck, Hanover School Division superintendent

He learned of the incident about 7:15 a.m. Wednesday, and wasn't able to contact RCMP until around 8:10 a.m. He says the division held off notifying parents in order to verify all the details.

The division has scheduled a meeting for parents and the public at 7 p.m. Thursday, to be held in the band room at the Niverville Collegiate Institute. Dueck will be in attendance, along with school administrators and members of the RCMP.

"Obviously we need to acknowledge that this was scary for everybody," he said.

"We'll be acknowledging that tonight, and then we'll be walking through … how the events transpired and how we knew what when, and what our learnings have been since so far at this point in time."

He says the RCMP told him the student wasn't in possession of the pellet gun at the time of the post, and it doesn't appear the student intended to harm anybody.

He says concerns may also have been fuelled by recent school shootings south of the border and the ensuing media coverage.

"I think it impacts it in a very big way," he said.

"It's not just imaginary. Something like this has happened. These things are occurring in schools, very unfortunately. And so it makes us take these threats so much more seriously, because you never know when a threat actually turns into reality."