Whitehorse Daily Star

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SURPRISE, SURPRISE! – Whitehorse parents and guardians were startled to receive a text message from the Department of Education this week. Most had received no prior notification of its planned dispatch.

Some suspicious parents deleted YG’s text

Hundreds of Whitehorse parents and guardians were taken aback by a text message they received Wednesday.

By Gabrielle Plonka on January 10, 2020

Hundreds of Whitehorse parents and guardians were taken aback by a text message they received Wednesday.

“Yukon Department of Education messages. Reply Y to confirm, HELP 4 info,” the text read.

Multiple people posted to social media that they deleted the message, suspicious of its authenticity. The Department of Education, however, says the text is legitimate.

David McInnes is the department’s director of technology and student information. He told the Star Thursday that the message is part of a new communication system at Whitehorse schools.

When parents or guardians press “Y” to confirm, they are opting in to receive text message alerts from their child’s school. These messages will include notifications of their child’s attendance, general broadcasts and emergency alerts.

“We needed to modernize how we communicate with parents, in a more effective and quick way,” McInnes said.

“Previously, when there had been an emergency at a school, parents were finding out about it through Facebook, and we wanted to be responsive to that.”

The text service is operated by SchoolMessenger. McInnes said the software is used “extensively” at North American schools.

Parents can download the SchoolMessenger app to customize the texts they receive. For example, recipients can choose to solely receive emergency alerts to their phone and opt out of the general event announcements.

“For the most part, we’ve had really good feedback from parents; they find it effective,” McInnes said.

“Parents like the fact they get clear information from the department rather than hearing about it via hearsay or word-of-mouth from other parents.”

The department said the majority of recipients were surprised by the text message due to a hiccup in the start-up process.

Originally, the texting service was only intended for pilot use at two Whitehorse schools: F.H. Collins and Porter Creek Secondary.

Parents at those two schools received notification of the text message – leaving the remainder of Whitehorse parents in the dark.

“We surprised even ourselves at how many people that message went out to,” McInnes said.

Now that the message has been sent to all 13 Whitehorse schools, McInnes said, the program will run at all 13, and notifications were sent out after-the-fact.

Parents posted to social media questioning the text on Wednesday and Thursday.

“Is this a scam?” one parent asked, echoing the sentiments of multiple Yukoners.

“I deleted it, it definitely looked scammy,” another said.

One Facebook user recommended that Yukoners “always check URLs before opening any suspicious messages.”

McInnes said parents who deleted the message can still opt in to the service: just text “Y” or “Yes” to 978338.

Despite the initial glitch, McInnes said, he is confident the service is secure.

He said the Department of Education conducted a privacy impact assessment in 2017.

“SchoolMessenger meets the most stringent privacy standards, as well as security standards,” McInnes said.

The service is an advancement of the “autodialer” system, or the computerized voicemail service that has been informing parents of their child’s attendance at three Whitehorse high schools for multiple years, McInnes said.

Last fall’s bomb threat at F.H. Collins utilized the autodialer system to inform parents. The department hopes text messaging will be an even more efficient avenue for communication.

Diane McLeod-McKay, the Yukon’s Information and Privacy Commissioner, said Thursday the government must follow privacy rules with regard to the collection and use of cell phone numbers.

For example, parents whose cell phones are used for the service should be aware their phone numbers were collected for that reason.

She also noted the government is legally obligated to prevent security breaches, to the best of its ability.

“That’s something you would need to be evaluating and make sure you have proper control over the information and … that any kind of use of that information by the third party vendor is restricted,” McLeod-McKay told the Star.

Comments (8)

Up 6 Down 0

Man oh man on Jan 15, 2020 at 3:05 pm

Does McInnes have any clue how many student/parents are actually in the system?

Up 16 Down 0

Apex Parasite on Jan 14, 2020 at 10:18 am

If I saw this cryptic message come in I would delete without a second thought.

Up 17 Down 1

FrozenYukoner on Jan 12, 2020 at 12:31 pm

“We surprised even ourselves at how many people that message went out to". So the department has no idea how many people they sent these messages to? Seriously?

Up 35 Down 3

Groucho d'North on Jan 11, 2020 at 12:22 pm

Poorly planned communications designed to improve communications. Something tells me this is just the beginning.

Up 26 Down 2

Groucho d'North on Jan 11, 2020 at 8:40 am

There is only one view when working in a bubble.

Up 24 Down 13

Stew Pidder on Jan 10, 2020 at 10:28 pm

Wow! And the hits just keep coming. YG does what YG wants regardless of any rules, regulations, procedures, policies or laws. Living in the chaotic alarmism of virtue signalling, morally panicked Liberal authoritarians who do not eat their own cooking.

Forrest Gump said it best Edie: Stupid is as stupid does!
A Yukon Election is like a box of chocolates. You never know what you’re going to elect!

Up 28 Down 3

Dan on Jan 10, 2020 at 5:21 pm

Looks as if the rollout for this Innovation was not well planned.

Up 63 Down 3

Edie Rue on Jan 10, 2020 at 3:14 pm

In the age of endless people and organizations trying to scam users out of every penny they have via social media, email and phone services, peoples concerns about this message was enormously justified. I definitely thought the same when I got it. I don't usually call events and decisions stupid as that can be hurtful, however it's hard not to with this one.

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