DAHLONEGA, Ga. – Something good might yet come from the hysteria caused by Lumpkin County School System’s failure to keep the public informed about a potential threat at Lumpkin County High School last month.
At Monday’s Board of Education meeting — despite board member Jim McClure’s attempt to scapegoat the media — other board members began to question how information is disseminated to the public.
First, it’s important to note that the threat — which was reported in the morning — turned out to be no threat at all. However, the first information the administration passed on to the public was not posted until late that evening on Facebook.
By that time Facebook had blown up with rumors of what had taken place. Sheriff Stacey Jarrard’s phone had also blown up with parents wanting to know what was going on. It was a question he could not answer because the school administration did not inform him.
Second, when the school system did issue a press release on Facebook, this is how it read:
“Today a Lumpkin County High School student alleged that another LCHS student made a threat to harm the school. Law enforcement and school administrators took swift action to isolate the student in question and to conduct a thorough investigation. Conclusion: There is no evidence that a threat was ever made. Rumors perpetuated on social media have caused concern in our community, so we wanted to share the facts.”
Not only was that information posted many hours after the furor had erupted, it was factually incorrect. Sheriff Jarrard said he did not conduct an investigation until the next day.
As board member Craig Poore correctly stated during Monday’s meeting, “There are a lot of people who are not on Facebook who are being told hearsay and that is where we had our problem.” Therefore, Facebook is probably not the best choice for spreading the word.
School Superintendent Dr. Rob Brown estimates that it takes between two and two and a half hours for a robo call to go out to all recipients and the administration had not completed its “investigation.”
Board member Jim McClure said, “If you put something out and it’s late in the evening… I think it was the right call not to do an all-call because who wants their phone ringing at 11:30 saying there was a rumor of a threat to the school. I wouldn’t want to be woke up to that, especially with it being a rumor.”
Apparently a lot of folks do. Jarrard said concerned parents were calling him until about 2 a.m.
But the point is, a robo call should have been issued immediately.
The public could have been informed and Facebook would not have blown up with a lot of misinformation. That could have been avoided by a robo call that simply stated:
The Lumpkin County School System has just received a report that one Lumpkin County High School student overheard another student make a threat to harm the school. This has just now been brought to our attention so we cannot determine at this time if the report is credible. Because we take these reports seriously we are investigating and as soon as we have more information, we will keep everyone informed.
How hard is that?
Some board members were surprised to learn that the robo call system was being used to announce sports events, fundraisers and other special events.
“I didn’t realize we were using that system to announce basketball games and other things,” McClure said. “To me that would be a problem. I think it needs to be limited to official business. Maybe this is a learning experience for everybody and if we do have that situation again maybe we can make a decision earlier.”
Rather than learn from the experience, however, McClure chose to blame the media, specifically Fetch Your News.
“It also bothers me the media would assume the school board and school administration would do nothing,” he said. “That is ridiculous in itself. We need to have some common sense. If a little common sense was applied to the situation there would have been no hysteria at all.”
On that, we are in complete agreement. Hopefully, school officials will try that next time.
Fetch Your News is a hyper local news outlet that covers Dawson, Lumpkin, White, Fannin, Gilmer, Pickens, Union, Towns and Murray counties as well as Cherokee County in N.C. FYN attracts 300,000+ page views per month, 3.5 million impressions per month and approximately 15,000 viewers per week on FYNTV.com and up to 60,000 Facebook page reach. If you would like to follow up-to-date local events in any of those counties, please visit us at FetchYourNews.com