Social media threats force cancellation of Alberta school's holiday dance

A central Alberta elementary school cancelled a holiday family dance due to safety concerns over alleged threatening social media comments about a Grade 4 social studies lesson.

The lesson that angered parents was about differing viewpoints on the oilsands

A Blackfalds, Alta. elementary school family dance was cancelled over alleged social media threats. (CBC)

A central Alberta elementary school cancelled a holiday family dance due to safety concerns over alleged social media threats prompted by anger over a Grade 4 social studies lesson.

A parent of a student at Iron Ridge Intermediate Campus in Blackfalds, Alta. was issued a ticket by RCMP for violating the School Act by disturbing or interrupting the proceedings of a school, police confirmed Tuesday. 

Wolf Creek Public Schools superintendent Jayson Lovell said the Grade 4-6 school cancelled the dance after learning about both "indirect and direct threats" made on Facebook after a parent took to social media to object to a lesson about differing perspectives on the oil sands and oil exploration.

Blackfalds, a town of 9,300 people, is about 13 kilometres north of Red Deer. 

During the lesson earlier this month, the teacher showed students two videos on the oil sands and oil exploration — one from the Alberta government and the other from Greenpeace.

"The focus of using those two videos and engaging students was really to focus on building critical thinking, and that concept of critical thinking, which is really woven throughout the social studies curriculum from kindergarten right through to Grade 12," Lovell said.

The lesson — and an accompanying written assignment that asked students to share their own opinions using facts they'd gathered — are part of the provincial curriculum, and the school's principal happened to be sitting in on the class during the lesson, Lovell said.

But a "misunderstanding" about the content was created when one of the students shared information about the lesson with their parent, he said.

"A parent took to Facebook and posted information relating to the content of the lesson that created a lot of strong commentary and reaction," Lovell said.

"It built to the point where the school became aware of some of that commentary, which was drifting toward language that indicated there could be confrontation — both indirect and direct threats that were made."

In the interest of safety, the school decided to cancel a holiday family dance scheduled for last Thursday.

Lovell said the threats were reported to the Blackfalds RCMP, and that police issued a ticket for disturbing or interrupting the proceedings of a school.

"We've never had anything like this play out as it has here over the last number of days, " he said.

By chance, the school already had a social media literacy session scheduled for students Tuesday, and an evening version of the presentation for parents. 

"It's very unfortunate that it happened and we never want to be in a position where we have to make a decision like we did to cancel an event that truly should be a celebration," Lovell said.

He said the school hopes to reschedule the dance for early in the new year.


Paige Parsons is an Edmonton-based reporter for CBC News, currently covering health. Send Paige a story tip at paige.parsons@cbc.ca.