Buoyed by the success of some experimental forays into social media, the local public school board is looking to formalize and further grow its digital connections with parents, staff and students.
Trillium Lakelands District School Board (TLDSB) spokesperson Catherine Shedden says the board is currently working to create a social media protocol for its schools. To date, she said the board knows of at least 10 schools that have started their own presence on Facebook and Twitter, and that the TLDSB maintains a presence on Twitter.
However, she said the protocol will formalize rules for using social media applications and allow the board to centralize strategies for their use across all schools.
“We from the corporate office will have access to the Twitter and Facebook pages, so if there was ever any assistance the school needed, we could just jump right in and do that,” she said. “Some of our schools have already gone down the path of using Twitter and we realize that more and more schools want to.”
Shedden said the protocol will only focus on Twitter and Facebook for now. But the decision to embrace social media, she said, will still be left up to each school.
“It’s not something that they have to do, (but) we are hopeful that more or most of our schools will attempt it,” she said.
Dubbed “Grow the Good,” the protocol aims to have schools using Twitter and Facebook to share the efforts of students and staff with both the community and the world. Although social media will be used to augment existing communications tools like newsletters and school websites, Shedden said it is also intended to help schools and the board better engage with parents, students and community members.
Shedden noted social media’s value when schools are dealing with troublesome incidents like lockdowns or school closures due to weather.
“We will use social media in crisis communications to promote accurate information,” she said.
The need for accurate and timely information during crisis situations was recently demonstrated when police locked down Huntsville High School in February. Police were reportedly called to the school in the morning to investigate messages that were posted on a Facebook page.
Concerned parents who called the school were assured that the students were safe, but given no further details on why the school was locked down. The school’s website gave parents no information on the incident the following day, and no notes were sent home with students immediately afterwards.
Without official information about what was happening, rumours abounded among the students about why police were there. Some thought threats had been made against the principal, while others thought a drug bust or outbursts of student violence had happened.
When local reporters attempted to get answers from Huntsville OPP, they were referred to the high school, which in turn referred inquiries back to the OPP. Police eventually released a statement which local media found unclear, and it did not confirm whether threats were made on Facebook.
To date, some local schools that have officially embraced social media include V.K. Greer Memorial Public School in Utterson, Riverside Public School in Huntsville and K.P. Manson Public School in Severn Bridge. Within south Muskoka, this newspaper found that Monck Public School, Glen Orchard Public School and Muskoka Falls Public School also maintain a social media presence.
Once put in place, Shedden said the protocol will be managed by the board’s communications staff. However, she said it may take a few years to get every school in the board to jump on-board with social media.
Until that happens, she invited parents and students looking for information on schools that do not have a social media presence to follow the TLDSB’s Twitter account — @TLDSB — for information.