After East Hills Boys High School in Panania and Sir Joseph Banks High School both lifted their lockdowns last Tuesday following threats made on social media, business went on as usual.
However, a mere two days later, St Andrews Cathedral School in Sydney’s CBD went into lockdown for the very same reason.
These incidents show how a single post on social media has the power to cause an entire school’s operations to grind to a halt, putting the brakes on learning and instilling fear into students and staff.
However, little can be done to lock down social media. In the event of a threat being made against the school, protocols involve the principal implementing the necessary safety and security measures before calling the police.
But is this a long-term solution?
Ron Bamford, Australian Principals Federation (APF) national president, told The Educator that so far, principals are yet to develop a cohesive action plan against this problem.
“There isn’t a unified strategy across the country. Many principals turn to their professional associations to get lawyers to threaten defamation action if the abuse is not removed,” Bamford said.
However, Bamford said there had been “a great advance” on anti-cyber bullying for students with an ombudsman having significant power to punish those who fail to withdraw offending material.
“What I particularly like is the ability to demand a public apology on the same medium it appeared. Perhaps school staff need the same protection,” Bamford suggested.
“In schools we are trying to educate students about the trap of letting off steam on-line. It is too easy to defame someone when you are talking to someone online and in a medium that allows other people access to these conversations.”
Western Australian Primary Principals Association (WAPPA) president, Stephen Breen, told The Educator that the integration of social media into schools’ day-to-day operations made this issue a complicated one.
“Schools are in a bit of a dilemma here. Schools know that social media is part of a society, so we know that we have to adapt,” Breen said.
“Social media is not a bad thing, but schools need the right protocols in place, such as having someone to regularly manage and moderate their social media content.”
Breen said that while a very small minority of people write threatening social media posts to schools, the fallout from such incidents required principals to ensure students had a thorough education of social media from an early age.
“Early intervention is important. You have to start early, as in kindy or pre-primary, to educate children about what is and what is not appropriate content for social media,” Breen said.
“Twenty years ago, schools and their classrooms were silos compared to the community. A big change I’ve noticed over this time is that schools are very much part of the community and vice versa.”
Breen added that the wholesale adoption of social media by schools represented “a paradigm shift for everyone.”
“Very few people can say today that their kid won’t be exposed to social media, so that’s something all schools need to educate students about, because students – and schools – will be confronted by it,” Breen said.