Friday, May 20, 2016

Follow Up for the Community

Dear Parents and Staff,

Well, that was quite a day at Bedford High School and Lurgio Middle School.  I am grateful for everyone working together as we went through several emergency drills.  Now that everyone is home safely, I want to take a moment to share with the community the events that led us here and to make a request so we can all learn from it moving forward.

First, some background on how we got here. 
On May 9, our staff found a graffiti mark in a bathroom at Bedford High School.  It had the date 5/19/16 on it and the words "it will come."  That same day, Principal Hagen and our Bedford Police School Resource Officer Donahue investigated the graffiti and determined that is was not a credible threat.

We had our custodial staff clean the graffiti, as we do routinely.  Before it was cleaned off, some students used their phones to take pictures of the graffiti and another marking on the wall that looked (to me at least) like a tree with a person in it.  As can happen with anything in digital media, those pictures were shared with other students and parents.  Several parents contacted school administrators, including one who contacted me directly, to ask about the graffiti.  We all worked to answer those questions and explain that they were not seen as a credible threat..

As the photos were passed around social media, comments were added that were not a part of the original graffiti.  I think the people commenting may have been speculating on the meaning of the graffiti, including sharing concerns about a possible threat of violence.  Some posted these speculations on social media sites asking others for more details.

Last night, Bill Hagen and I spoke again about the speculation on email.  We reconfirmed with Officer Donahue that we all agreed that there was no credible threat for today.

This morning, in a separate incident, a student shared with Mr. Hagen that they heard from another student who had overheard a conversation that included something about "Do not be in [this room] at [this time]" (I am leaving out the details as we continue to investigate.)  Mr. Hagen called me and the police department immediately.  He investigated this incident and was unable to trace back the source of the comment.  I convened our emergency team - which included administration and the Bedford police - and decided this threat was also not credible.  At the same time, we were aware that many parents and students had read the speculative information on social media.   As a result, we decided to run the evacuation drill.

Police helped search the room and reconfirmed that there was no threat.  The designated time came and went.  Everyone behaved beautifully as we ran these drills. 
Second, I hope I can learn something from this. 
Although there was never a credible threat involved, when material makes it into social media, the initial facts and context can be lost.  In hindsight, I think a public statement from me explaining the issue could have been helpful to address concerns.

I also ask that we all think about a lesson we might learn as a community.  Social media is very good at amplifying anxiety and not very good at lowering it.   Social media can presents raw information without the benefit of experience and context.  I ask that all of us, parents, staff, students, and myself, be extra cautious about sharing information broadly before we know the context.  I ask that we all seek to verify information from the source before we share it on social media.

I appreciate your trust in us to keep your children safe, and I will continue to make that my top priority.

Thank you,

Chip McGee

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