Thursday, October 18, 2007

Parents Often Aren’t the Only Ones Kept in the Dark

There is an interesting story in today’s
Globe and Mail
about a gun incident. Apparently last Friday a student brought a 9 mm gun, with ammunition, to Johnson Heights Secondary School in Surrey, B.C. Warned by a former student that there could be trouble, a school official intercepted the student, took him to the office where a search uncovered his weapon. The police were then called. Parents are upset that a letter wasn’t sent home until the following Wednesday after a media report about the incident on Tuesday. While the school dealt effectively with the gun threat, I can’t help but think that there were some very definite reasons for the delay in communication with the parents.

Over the past several years, schools, and the administrators who run them, have become increasingly political in their concern about the ‘optics’ of situations. In all likelihood, there were meetings at high board levels concerning how best to convey this information to the public, all in the quest to convince everyone that the school is safe. This is one of the reasons that many boards have corporate communications officers. What people might find surprising is that this kind of embargo on timely information often extends to the teaching staff itself. I remember a few years back, the staff's help was enlisted to identify the handwriting of a note that contained both a bomb threat and a threat against the school’s principal. With staff assistance, the culprit was apprehended, but at the following staff meeting, we were not allowed to know anything about the perpetrator. We did not want to know his name, only what measures had been taken after he had been caught, but the principal told us that due to ‘privacy concerns,’ he couldn’t tell us anything.

Not to be trusted with information essential to the safety of the school is not only dangerous, but it is also very demoralizing, reminding teachers once again that in the great scheme of things educational, we occupy a very lowly position.


Redkudu said...

Last year we had a "Columbine-style" threat at our school (according to law enforcement assessment of the situation). The students had a plan, guns, and (according to some reports) pipe bombs.

They were intercepted on a Friday morning at home, luckily.

Teachers and parents did not find out about it until Monday afternoon.

Parents found out about it through community gossip over the weekend.

Teachers found out about it because parents called to let them know - on Monday afternoon.

Even afterward - after we'd sent queries to admin through email - we were rebuffed, and no information was made available to us.

'Privacy concerns' were also used to deter us in this situation. We never got the full truth of that situation, other than what we got through the news. That's when we began to feel less than safe at our school.

I can understand the desire not to cause panic. But to leave teachers in the dark as to a potential situation in the school that day seems less than responsible.

Lorne said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Lorne said...

Redkudu, both your experience and mine suggest that until boards and their minions (superintendents, principals, acknowledge the fact that the front line workers, the teachers, are the most important element in trying to ensure both the education and security of our students, nothing will change. It seems they only recognize this when it serves their purposes.