Fayetteville, N.C. — Cumberland County Schools officials said Monday that they have upgraded the security of a social media network used by schools and students after a security breach led to a threat against students being posted online.
A 15-year-old in Louisiana posted a message, addressed to Pine Forest High School's Class of 2014, on the Edmodo system, saying he planned to "shoot up the school" on Monday and then kill himself.
"This is not a joke," the Edmodo post reads.
The message prompted Pine Forest High officials to cancel a homecoming dance Saturday night and led to additional security at the school Monday from the Cumberland County Sheriff's Office. About 40 percent of the school's students were absent Monday.
Edmodo allows students to correspond with classmates and teachers, but the school has more control of the content than on Facebook or other social media sites. Superintendent Frank Till said teachers assign a password to each student, but the passwords weren't secured, which allowed the Louisiana teen to obtain access to the system.
"He had a password that we believe he got off our website. We believe our procedures fell down and caused this problem,” Till said.
He said he doesn't know if the teen ever attended school in Fayetteville or has family in the area.
"I still don’t know how the student decided on Pine Forest, but when they got on the Pine Forest website, they had all they needed to get in and send the emails out,” he said.
Parent Mark Witt notified school administrators of the threat late Friday after his daughter, a Pine Forest senior, told him that someone was posting items on Edmodo using her name.
"The stuff that was on there was originally harmless," Witt said, noting graphic posts soon followed. "He was sending all kinds of porn pictures – really graphic porn pictures– also pictures of mutilated bodies."
The teen posted hundreds of messages over several hours to the Edmodo site and used as many as 20 screen names, Witt said.
“There was a post that the guy specifically made saying my daughter had bullied him," he said, noting that really upset her. Some of her classmates were also mentioned by name, he said.
The boy's father turned him in to authorities in Louisiana on Sunday, and he was charged with making threats against a school, a misdemeanor offense.
Till said all Cumberland County principals pulled their school Edmodo sites offline over the weekend to give teachers a chance to lock down all passwords. The school district has no plans to stop using Edmodo, only to upgrade security, he said.
"When it works right, it gives us the protection that we need," he said.
The Wake County Public School System and Durham Public Schools also use Edmodo.
Witt agreed that Edmodo is a good tool for the schools that shouldn't be abandoned because of the security breach.
"Their intent is nothing but good. They’re trying to connect with students," he said.