Monday, April 13, 2009

Is it really about school safety?

This only took a few days to pop up in reaction to a still-developing set of circumstances around the strange disappearance of a Grade 3 student in Woodstock. For those living under a rock since April 8, Victoria Stafford's whereabouts remain unknown as of the posting of this article. Yet another thing that popped up while on hiatus last week.
The Sarnia article is a textbook localized story-- take an event happening elsewhere and start asking questions about whether or how it might happen locally. Talk to the comparable sources in your own community, mash it all together and pump out the story. Note the local media covering this story were at the school April 9 where a brief statement was provided by the school board's manager of public affairs and community relations Kate Young. She requested, perhaps rightfully so, that media not speak to students or parents as classes were dismissed for the Easter long weekend. The national media swamping Woodstock only arrived Friday, when school was already out. Given the pretty thorough canvassing of the school's neighbourhood over the weekend and of school-aged kids at the Sunday vigil, it'll be interesting to see what greets the students and staff at Oliver Stephens Public School Tuesday morning.
Yet this one makes me cringe a bit (likely because this reporter will be asked to write a very similar story on return to work Tuesday afternoon) since I question the starting point for this article -- that a school's safety had anything to do with the disappearance of Stafford. Just how responsible is a school and the staff who work there for student safety once the students are off the school grounds? Especially for those students who walk to/from school. At this particular school, because of the school board's walking distances, there are only two buses-- one for the congregated special education class' students and another for a minority of students at the school who live in a weirdly designed portion of the school's attendance area.
I can't imagine the difficulties that could arise from a scenario where this tragic situation leads to calls for school staff to increase the scope of their supervision before and after classes. Never mind the fact the Elementary Teachers' Federation of Ontario has completely dug in its heels on student supervision duties. The union's take on the matter is no more than 80 minutes per five-day cycle and a 'what coloured glasses do these people wear' interpretation of Reg. 298 on teachers' legislated requirement on supervision before the start of classes in the morning and afternoon. An attempt in earlier provincial discussion table talks by the Ontario Public School Boards' Association to firm up the supervision clauses in contracts was dropped when Education Minister Kathleen Wynne mandated a shotgun wedding between the two groups in February to stop the pissing match going on in the press. As a result, the supervision clauses remain unchanged. This means at many schools -- including Stafford's -- it's the principal and vice-principal who are supervising the street access to the school and greeting buses in the morning and sending them off in the afternoon. Teachers and other staff supervise the playground and rear yard during these times. Short of expecting staff to personally chaperone every student to their own front door, there has to be a point where the handoff of responsibility for a student's safety goes from the school to the parent or guardian.
Is there much point in raising everyone's dander and, in particular, pointing fingers at schools for what's happened here?