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Gov. Herbert decries April Fools’ joke claiming Utah students have to repeat current grade as ‘irresponsible’

State Board of Education says ‘It’s not true’ and ‘in bad taste’; school districts reacting to fake letters sent out on school district letterhead

An April Fools fake news story is making its way around social media stating incorrectly that Gov. Gary Herbert is ordering students to repeat their current grade next year.
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SALT LAKE CITY — Utah Gov. Gary Herbert, among others, decried an April Fools’ Day joke circulated on social media Wednesday that said all Utah students would repeat their current grade next year.

Herbert, in tweet, called the joke “irresponsible.”

“I am tremendously grateful to our teachers for their tireless efforts to continue educating Utah students — and I’m impressed by the dedication of our students who are learning from home,” he wrote in a tweet.

Herbert’s education policy deputy Tami Pyfer tweeted: “I’ve never enjoyed April Fools’ Day jokes (ever), but this one is particularly unfortunate. Know your audience people. To be clear - THIS IS NOT TRUE.”

The joke was a doctored screenshot of a purported KSL.com story appearing to be authored by Deseret News reporter Katie McKellar.

Mark Peterson, spokesman for the Utah State Board of Education, said: “It is a joke and it’s in poor taste these days with everything going on and it is not true.”

The doctored screen shot was widely shared on social media, including Granite School District’s social media channels. District spokesman Ben Horsley said it was posted on the district’s Twitter and Facebook accounts “making it very clear it was an April Fools’ joke.”

Horsley said the school district had received phone calls about the screenshot before posting it on school district’s social media. “Us posting it was an effort to help people understand it was an April Fools’ joke,” he said.

“Given the current circumstance and climate we shared it for a brief moment making it very clear that it was an April Fools’ joke. After KSL.com asked us to remove it, we did so and that was only after only 10 or 15 minutes. The comments were overwhelmingly enjoyable. People were laughing at it. There were some people who needed it pointed out that was an April Fools’ joke,” Horsley said.

Upon learning about the phony story circulating on social media, McKellar tweeted:

“TO BE CLEAR: If you see a screenshot of a @KSLcom with my byline on it that says @GovHerbert is asking students to repeat grades, someone played an #AprilFools joke. It’s NOT real. Don’t know who did, but I’m hearing there are a lot of upset parents/kids who believe it. #utpol”

She later tweeted: “Perhaps this is a good time to remind people how to be media literate and check whether a story is fake or not. A good first step is to GOOGLE IT. Can you find a LINK to that screen-shotted headline? No? It’s probably fake.”

Davis and Tooele school districts also have issued communications to parents after fake letters were issued electronically under their letterhead referring to the pandemic and impacts on the schools.

Davis School District tweeted that the communication was “no laughing matter.”

“A Tuesday, March 31 letter reportedly released by the Davis School District is fake. No such letter was sent. Enjoy the rest of Spring Break. We will see students Monday — virtually of course.”

Tooele School District, meanwhile, was “annoyed,” according to its social media posts.

“The letter that is circulating put out on TCSD letterhead impersonating public officials with ‘Pandemic Cancellation Closure’ is completely false/fake. This fake letter has actually created additional work to correct misinformation for people who have been diligently working through this pandemic. Any new information we have is sent out through official channels to our parents/students. If it’s not on the TCSD social media sites, you didn’t get an email or phone call, and it’s not on our website- it’s probably not accurate or true. We understand it is April Fools Day and people want to have fun, but during this heightened time of anxiety and uncertainties, this type of letter was in bad taste and bad timing.”

The letter that is circulating put out on TCSD letterhead impersonating public officials with "Pandemic Cancellation...

Posted by Tooele County School District on Wednesday, April 1, 2020