You couldn’t have designed a better example of the good and the bad social media can cause than what’s occurred in eastern Lebanon County these past few days.
On Tuesday, a Facebook post went viral for its claim that administrators had not adequately disclosed an alleged threat made the previous day to commit school violence—a threat that authorities say was not credible—leading to conversations across social media about the incident.
Apparently, not all who noticed the social media activity responded admirably and with the intent of having a good civic discussion.
According to Pennsylvania State Police, this morning at 7am a parent of an ELCO High School student sent the high school principal a screen shot of a social media post the parent’s daughter had received. The parent’s daughter was said to have received the post from another high school student who had heard that another student was going to shoot up the school today. None of the students have been identified, and it is not clear what led the one student to suggest that the other was prepared to commit violence.
According to the district’s release, administration actually learned of the threat “very late last night.” The district said that the threat was “believed to be related to the events on Monday.”
Pennsylvania State Police say the investigation began immediately after they learned of the threat this morning and that numerous interviews have been conducted, although the investigation is still considered ongoing, and PSP have not announced any charges.
PSP emphasized that ELCO has followed Safe2Say safety protocols as well as generally cooperated with the agency.
“The building was and remains secure, and classes proceeded as normal today,” according to ELCO Superintendent Mrs. Julia Vicente, whose statement was sent around 3pm Thursday (an earlier message from Vicente was sent around 9:30am, see both statements below).
Reached yesterday evening by phone, prior to the threat shared later that evening, Vicente emphasized that safety is the school’s top priority. “We are always focused on the safety of students and staff,” she said. “We act according to our protocols for the investigation.”
When asked about the Tuesday’s Global Connect message and whether it was sent in response to the social media discussion, Vicente declined to get into the specifics of the timing, but noted that the school got the message out as quickly as it could.
“The worst case would be to send information that is not true and then retract and then have confusion,” she explained Wednesday evening, before today’s incident. Vicente noted in the conversation that it can be frustrating when details can’t be released immediately but that she has to communicate with thoughtful intent and protect the confidentiality of students.
In the absence of official updates, speculation arose, in our comments section and inbox and elsewhere online. (As Mark Twain said, “A lie can travel half way around the world while the truth is putting on its shoes.”)
One ELCO parent said in an interview with LebTown that the rumor mill even trickled down today to the intermediate school, where students speculated (without any basis for doing so) of a high school hit list targeting fourth graders.
Now, with the school day over, the ELCO community can take a deep breath and think about next steps.
Want to help slow down rumors online? Here are some tips on assessing information you see on social media.
– Who is making the claim? Are they in a position to know the claim is true first-hand? If not, how do they claim to know the claim is true?
– Is the claim being reported elsewhere? Check your local news outlets. We recommend the Lebanon Daily News, WGAL 8, WLBR, the Reading Eagle, and Lancaster Newspapers. You can even email us directly: firstname.lastname@example.org.
– Does the claim make you feel emotional? Know that this is an intentional manipulation tactic. Stay vigilant!
Global Connect Message #2
Dear Parents and Guardians,
In light of the recent social media posts and news reports that have been circulating referencing alleged threats targeting ELCO High School, this letter serves as an update. As previously communicated in a Global Connect e-mail sent on Tuesday, May 7th, the ELCO High School received a report at the end of the school day on Monday, May 6th regarding a threatening statement made by a student. Immediately upon receiving the report, Pennsylvania State Police and the District’s School Police Officer were notified and the Safe2Say safety protocols were implemented. A cooperative investigation was initiated. As a direct result of the investigation, both PSP and the District determined that there was no credible evidence suggesting a risk of harm to the school community.
Very late last night, the district administration was alerted to information circulating on social media referencing a threat to the High School for Thursday, May 9th, believed to be related to the events on Monday, May 6th. PSP was present on campus this morning as students arrived to school to engage in further investigation and support the district. The school district continues to cooperate and coordinate with the PSP in connection with this matter. The building was and remains secure, and classes proceeded as normal today.
Informing parents/guardians of events like this requires careful consideration and coordination with law enforcement. It is always the desire and intention of the school district to notify our parents and school community as quickly as possible. However, the district strives to ensure that the release of information is thoughtful and consistent with our duty to protect the student body and not to impede on the activities of law enforcement. There are confidentiality laws in place that prohibit the District from sharing some information. While we recognize that it may be frustrating at times that specific details surrounding a situation cannot be released, we are mindful of our duty to ensure that all students’ rights are protected and to conduct our responses to such situations in a manner that ensures safety while not running at cross-purposes to law enforcement.
The method of communication is determined based on the circumstances surrounding the incident. If imminent danger is present, or should a building go into lockdown due to an unsafe situation, we communicate as quickly as possible with parents/guardians. If there is no imminent danger, communication is provided to parents/guardians as soon as possible once we can confirm the accuracy of information being reported. The accuracy of information shared is paramount to safety considerations and appropriate measures must be taken prior to the release of information, which if inaccurate, might create additional safety concerns.
Keeping our schools safe is multi-faceted and an on-going effort that requires the commitment and participation from all stakeholders. While the full array of action steps may not be visible to the public, ensuring the safety and security of our students, staff, and buildings is a daily intentional effort and process that is constantly evaluated and adjusted to meet changing needs. Finally, it is critical that we continue to consider carefully the social and emotional health of our students and strive to provide needed support services for all students. Together, we share the responsibility for the health and safety of our students and realizing our shared vision of one community, one school district, creating learning opportunities for each student, every day.
Julia Vicente, ELCO Superintendent
Global Connect Message #1
This is a message form the ELCO School District:
We are aware that information was circulating on social media late last night referencing an alleged threat for today, Thursday, May 9 at the ELCO High School. The District has implemented established Safe 2 Say safety protocols, and the administration is cooperating with the Pennsylvania State Police in the investigation. The building is secure and classes are proceeding as normal.
The District will provide updated additional information as appropriate in light of the on-going investigation.