A COUNCIL has apologised after its attempt to play down speculation surrounding a threat to its schools spread further panic and caused nearly 800 pupils to miss the last day of term.
East Lothian Council wrote to parents on Wednesday in an attempt to address rumours spreading on Twitter about an anonymous letter sent to primary schools in the area.
A religious text understood to be The Little Soul and the Sun by American author Neale Donald Walsch was sent to 12 schools, with the first being received last Thursday.
While police had decided there was nothing threatening in the letters, East Lothian’s newly appointed head of education, Darrin Nightingale, wrote to parents describing the notes as “strange”.
He said police had been consulted and school staff remained “alert to any suspicious activity or individuals around school premises”.
However, his attempt to defuse the situation backfired, with nearly one in ten primary school children failing to show up for class yesterday as a result, according to figures from the council.
Mr Nightingale’s letter said: “Last week, some of our schools received the same identical copy of a letter addressed to school offices, the content of which was a strange take on a children’s parable. Nothing in the content of this story is threatening or offensive; however, I have taken advice from my education colleagues and Lothian and Borders Police. Although nothing further has been received, we remain alert to any suspicious activity or individuals around the school premises.
“I reassure you that nothing has happened and we remain focused on encouraging all schools to enjoy the last days of school before Christmas.”
As a result of the letter, nearly 800 pupils were recorded as absent by the council yesterday. The number of children to miss class equates to roughly 9 per cent of the primary school roll and five per cent of the total pupils across the authority area.
In a statement, the council said: “East Lothian Council apologises for any distress or misunderstanding caused to parents of primary school pupils by the issuing of a letter concerning anonymous letters received by a number of local schools.
“The issuing of the council’s letter was intended to advise and reassure parents following a number of concerns raised by school communities and to dispel rumours which were widely circulating on social media sites.
“Clearly, the letter had the opposite effect and caused greater concern for which East Lothian Council sincerely apologises.
“The receipt of the anonymous letter by a number of local schools was reported to the police who are currently investigating the matter. It is important to stress these letters are non-criminal, non-threatening and non-offensive in nature, and we do not believe that any threat is posed to pupils or the wider community.”
Tina Woolnough, of the National Parent Forum Scotland, said: “At this time of year and given what happened in America, people are tired and emotional.
“It was the last day of school, and many parents probably thought they would play safe and keep the children at home.”