June 27, 2016

Mostly sunny

Medina school board wrestles with separating truth from rumor

The Medina school board is grappling with how to protect student privacy while trying to quell rumors on social media.

On Tuesday, the board discussed during a work session how to respond to the community after an incident at the high school sparked discussion and rumors online.

Last Wednesday, a 16-year-old Medina High School student was charged with disorderly conduct and resisting arrest after a fight among three students in the cafeteria.

The incident ignited more than 100 comments from parents and on the Medina City Schools Outrage Facebook page.

Medina resident Mark Kuhar created the page in March to protest the school board’s approval of a new contract for Superintendent Randy Stepp that provided an $83,000 signing bonus. The site has evolved into a forum for general concerns about the school district.

The comments about the incident at the high school included the false rumor that police used an electronic stun gun on a student. A student also shared on Twitter a photo of a boy being taken out of the cafeteria in handcuffs by a police officer.

Interim Superintendent Dave Knight asked the board to think about how the district ought to respond to a similar situation in the future.
Knight said social media has resulted in the community demanding a response instantly.

“We have to be very careful to protect the confidentiality of children and families,” he said. “We need to have the proper amount of time to investigate the facts to get to the truth.”

Board member Tom Cahalan said the district needs to reassure parents that a situation is being handled correctly.

But he said modern electronics can spread rumors almost instantly.

“We have cameras on those phones and there you have something that looks worse than what it was,” he said. “How do we respond in an appropriate manner?

“That’s a tough balance in today’s world where we have immediate gratification needs of the public.”

Board member Doug Adamczyk said the district does not need to communicate the details of the incident, but agreed that the district needs to improve how it responds to rumors.

“We need to have some sort of strategy in place to quash those rumors,” he said.

Kris Quallich, director of educational services, said the district only received three phone calls about the incident in the high school. Based on that, she decided that a formal response was not needed.

Quallich encouraged parents to call the building principal if they have concerns about a specific incident. She said parents who called received an explanation that was more detailed than what the district could have put on a website or published.

Adamczyk suggested that basing the response on phone calls was a mistake.

“I wonder if our litmus test is outdated,” he said. “I’m wondering if we need to update what sources we go to and what we look at.

“A lot of parents, they don’t call. It’s so much easier to reach out to you on Facebook and reach out to you on email.”

Board member Bill Grenfell cautioned against school officials spreading inaccurate information.

“There’s no consequences for the blogs, tweets to be wrong,” he said. “There’s huge consequences if we’re wrong.

“We’re never going to satisfy society’s lust for instant information. We have to put the kids first.”

Contact reporter Kiera Manion-Fischer at (330) 721-4049 or kfischer@medina-gazette.com.