A social media incident on a Blackfalds Facebook opinion page has resulted in the cancellation of a school family dance at Iron Ridge Intermediate Campus (IRIC) after the school received what the school district took as “direct threats” to the event and a teacher, according to Wolf Creek Public Schools (WCPS) Superintendent Jayson Lovell.
The incident was the result of a Grade 4 social studies assignment which asked students to write an opinion paper on land use in Alberta, one of those uses being oil and and gas exploration.
Lovell said the assignment was a lesson in critical thinking that asked students to consider different perspectives.
“The teacher provided an opportunity for students to hear two different perspectives on that in the form of a video,” he said. There was two perspectives and the students were asked to make notes on those perspectives.
“The teacher planned for the students to move the content of those notes into a written presentation, where the students were expected to write an opinion paper and doing so put forward their opinions on that particular topic.”
The assignment was given to the students while the IRIC principal was in attendance.
The assignment, which did have a focus on oil sands exploration, led to one student informing his parents — one of whom took to social media feeling the assignment was unfair to the energy sector.
“The parent became very active on social media expressing what he felt about that particular lesson. In doing so, it created a large and expansive commentary on a Blackfalds opinion page,” Lovell said.
By the time Lovell became involved, the commentary on the page included individuals potentially confronting the teacher at the dance or starting a protest at the school, leading to the school district deciding to cancel the event.
“Yes they were direct threats. Some were indirect but there were direct threats,” Lovell said.
According to Lovell, the teacher was acting within the curriculum and was offering multiple perspectives. This was confirmed by the principal of IRIC who was present at the time.
“The curriculum pushes students to understand different perspectives and viewpoints on a topic. That is part of the social studies curriculum, not just on oil exploration but on a number of topics and it is referenced in the curriculum for the teacher to follow,” Lovell said.
Lovell said WCPS and IRIC were disapointed to cancel the dance, which has seen over 500 attendees in the past.
“When we have a situation like we had with the sheer nature of the comments, we did not want to subject any student or staff member or parent or community member to that. We thought there was a risk and unfortunately had to make that decision,” he said.
An individual who was involved in the online comments was issued a ticket by the RCMP under Section 256 of the Education Act, which states an individual will not, “Disturb or interrupt the proceedings of a school”.
“Based on what was posted and the decision we had to make, we felt that one individuals language in a post was in that category. The RCMP issued a ticket with a mandatory court appearance. That will move forward,” Lovell said.
“It is a message that we have been trying to engage our parents and our students in for quite some time, that being understanding the world of social media and how to make sure that our students are engaging in a healthy, positive way,” Lovell said. “We have focused on that for many years.”