Model Programs

Pender County Reminds Community to “Report, Don’t Repost”

Location: North Carolina By Becky Lewis Published March 2018

Throughout the bus ride, the temptation is there: Share it. Be the one who warns your classmates about the potential danger they all face. But each time she thinks about pulling her phone out of her bag, she remembers the posters in the hallways, the ones that remind students what to do that will help if they see a threatening post.

When the bus pulls into the parking lot, the phone is still in her bag, and her footsteps turn toward the counselor’s office.

Launched in the immediate aftermath of the Feb. 14, 2018, shootings in Parkland, Fla., the “Report, Don’t Repost” campaign in the Pender County, N.C., schools encourages students not to turn social media postings into widespread rumors, but rather to bring them to the attention of a trusted counselor, teacher or law enforcement officer. In addition to the posters and a promotional video, the campaign also includes a comprehensive website, PenderSafe.com, which provides information on and access to resources within the school system, details on drills and the emergency response plan, and links to external resources such as the National Suicide Prevention hotline, Rachel’s Challenge and a local crisis hotline. And of course, the website also includes a “Report, Don’t Repost” online form that allows students to not only report social media threats, but also to report incidences of fights and cyberbullying, and concerns about suicidal tendencies.

The project had been in the works since October 2017, but the Valentine’s Day shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School and a subsequent social media threat that kept 20 percent of Pender County’s students out of school on Feb. 20 pushed the timeline forward, according to Superintendent Steven Hill.

“We had been working on the concept of building a multi-agency safety committee for our district, based on the idea that most of the issues we have to deal with come through social media,” Hill says, and Capt. James Rowell of the Pender County Sheriff’s Office adds: “We wanted to try to reshape thinking on how to handle social media issues. People thought they were helping by sharing posts or snaps, but they were causing chaos by more widely circulating them in the community.”

The Feb. 20 incident resulted in 1,400 absences in the district of 9,500 students, with parents checking out another 300 to 400 students early, according to Miranda Ferguson, communications coordinator for Pender County Schools. The large (900 square miles) rural county includes both farms and coastal living, and a wide range of socioeconomic status, but all those diverse parents have one thing in common: concern for their children’s safety. And at the committee’s scheduled meeting on Feb. 23, members voted to move quickly on launching the website and the campaign, with the video and website going live on March 9.

“We have a great technology department and it only took us a couple of weeks to get the website up,” Ferguson says. “We had to create the platform to receive the tips and the website is still a work in progress, of course. While that was going on, we created yard signs with the URL to place around the community and came up with the poster campaign. We were just trying to be very timely.

“Right now we’re pushing the social media threat aspect because of recent events, but we definitely want students and the community to be comfortable using it as an anonymous platform where they can report a variety of different issues and concerns,” she adds. Plans call for expanding the reporting tool into an app that will allow users to quickly submit anonymous tips.

“We’re trying to be proactive instead of just being reactive to recent events,” Hill says. “We want to get the community involved and I hope everyone sees this as a community issue, not just a school system issue. We have law enforcement, EMS and the local mental health agency at the table, and we want to make sure everyone knows we want what’s best for our kids and our community.”

Hill recently spoke in nearby Wilmington as the superintendent of New Hanover County looks to start a similar campaign, and Ferguson says that overall, the initial public support has been tremendous. Within the first week of operation, Rowell says the sheriff’s office was able to use a tip received via PenderSafe (which stands for Safety Awareness for Education) to squelch a social media rumor before it got started.

“We know that it’s working, and from the sheriff’s office perspective, we also  know that no matter how much we try, there will never be enough fences and enough metal detectors to stop every threat. You have to be able to depend on the community to let you know about the threats ahead of time,” Rowell says.