Social media threats lead to cancellation of Christmas school dance in Blackfalds, Alta.

A file photo of an empty classroom. File Photo / Getty Images

An annual Christmas dance at a Blackfalds elementary school was cancelled on Friday after threats were apparently made on a Facebook forum.

It all stems from an assignment given to Grade 4 students last week at the Iron Ridge Elementary School, according to Jayson Lovell, the superintendent of Wolf Creek Public Schools.

Lovell told 770 CHQR that as part of the social studies lesson — outlined by Alberta Education’s Grade 4 Program of Studies — students were being taught about Alberta’s land.

“Specifically, the outcome from that program of studies was around a central question, which was: how do Albertans deal with competing demands on land use? And it gives a number of different suggestions, including solar and wind power, recreation, agriculture and oil exploration,” said Lovell in a phone interview with 770 CHQR.

He said the teacher then used two video examples about oil sands development: one from the Government of Alberta and one from Greenpeace.

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Students were asked to watch each video and make notes about what they thought were the important points from both sources. They were tasked with writing an opinion paper on the subject.

“What the teacher was trying to do was show both sides of that in a way where students could understand it, and then students were on their own, based on a position that they felt they wanted to put forward, to write an opinion paper,” Lovell explained.

“So it moved from a social studies lesson and content to then a written comment, which would be more in the language arts subject area.”

According to Lovell, a parent heard about the lesson and went to a local Facebook page to express their concern that the lesson was unfair to the oil and gas industry.

By the time the school board was made aware of it, he said the commentary had escalated to the point that threats had been made about a potential confrontation at the planned Iron Ridge Intermediate Campus’ Family School Christmas Dance.

“It did result in a growing forum of comments that when we became aware of it, it had reached a very serious level of concern with some direct and indirect threats to what was scheduled that night, which was actually a Christmas dance,” Lovell said.

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Lovell said after consulting with the RCMP, and in the interest of safety for students and staff, they decided to cancel the event.

According to the school, RCMP investigated the Facebook post and issued a ticket to a parent under the School Act for disturbing or interrupting the proceedings of a school.

Lovell stressed that the teacher was not presenting a biased viewpoint and was teaching within the curriculum.

“In that particular lesson, it just so happened that the principal was in the room at the time. She was walking around the school and just supervising and happened to pop in and spent the majority of the time in that classroom observing the lesson” said Lovell.

“I would say from everything that I’ve seen in terms of the lesson itself, the content, the resources, the approach, and the actual teaching of the lesson, they did provide [a] very balanced approach and certainly did not present it in a way that there was a personal bias or any kind of agenda in what they presented.”

The school is planning to reschedule the dance in the new year. In the meantime, parents are being invited to a social media session Tuesday night.

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Lovell said the school had previously scheduled the presentation from Jo(e) Media on social media for parents before the cancellation of the dance.

“It’s an opportunity for us to highlight the need for those open, honest and respectful conversations in that area of social media and digital citizenship. We’re fortunate because the timing is right and we look forward to that.”

Joe Whitbread, the founder of Jo(e) Media, told Calgary Today on 770 CHQR that this isn’t the first time he’s seen something like this happen.

“What did I think when I saw this? Here we go again, adults wrecking things for kids,” Whitbread said.

He said part of the problem is the current political climate.

“We simply have the ability now to stand behind our podium and say what we want under the guise of freedom of speech, but we’re doing it in harmful and disruptive ways and it’s affecting kids,” he said.

Whitbread said the focus of Tuesday’s session will be the dos and don’ts of online and the different ways kids use social media versus their parents.

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