A memo with Bend-La Pine Schools’ letterhead was passed among students earlier this week, stating that the U.S. government and the school district would use students’ cell phones and computers to track their texts and record their conversations.
This Big Brother-esque notice was fake — it was created by a Skyline High School teacher and another teacher for the district for a dystopia-themed assignment. But parents and students unaware of this context were confused and concerned about the letter after a Skyline student took a picture of it and spread it around on social media. This resulted in a school resource officer associated with the Bend Police Department investigating the situation, as district staff did not know at first that the letter was part of a class assignment.
“Before we knew that it was part of a lesson, we involved local law enforcement, so they could look into it,” said Julianne Repman, the district’s director of safety and communication.
Repman said one of the teachers who created the assignment contacted the district Wednesday, two hours after law enforcement began investigating the letter, to let district officials know that she created the letter. Repman said “appropriate action will be taken” with the Skyline teachers, whom she declined to name.
Bend police spokesman Clint Burleigh said resource officer Chris Stokes’ investigation resulted in no citations for the student. Stokes was looking into a possible case of disorderly conduct, as the student’s sharing of the letter online caused panic, Repman said.
The fake letter had the official Bend-La Pine Schools logo on top, used Bend-La Pine’s name, and was even formatted in an identical news release. Repman said this could be the main reason why it caused confusion, and the district discourages staff from using the district’s logo on anything that’s not a legitimate document.
“Using the district logo tends to add authenticity and credibility to a document, so we would only want those kind of documents coming from the district,” she said. “If it’s going to be a fictional story, you’ll typically see, ‘Anytown, U.S.A.’”
Skyline is a choice-option high school in its first year that teaches students core subjects through experience-based learning and themes instead of in separate classes. For example, some students in November went rock climbing at Smith Rock State Park to provide inspiration for poems.
Christy McLeod, the mother of a ninth grader at Bend High School, said her son was very concerned when he saw a photo of the letter on social media.
“It felt so overreaching,” she said. “His response was, ‘This is absolute tyranny.’”
McLeod said she was conflicted on the legitimacy of the letter, because although the content seemed “1984-ish” and extreme, the letter appeared official. However, her son soon informed her that it was a hoax. McLeod said he discovered this by calling the number at the bottom of the letter, which was intended to connect to the district’s technology department. Instead, it went to a “rejection hotline” that people can give out as a fake number to deflect unwanted suitors.
Still, she had no idea that this was a class project created by a teacher.
“I thought it was an April Fool’s prank that hadn’t made its way around yet, and it was a pretty good prank,” she said.
A representative from Skyline declined to comment on the story.
Repman said Skyline administrators had met with the student who shared the photo. When asked if the student was disciplined, she said “appropriate action was taken.”
“It’s certainly a teachable moment for the staff and students involved,” she said.
— Reporter: 541-617-7854, firstname.lastname@example.org