Sunday, May 24, 2009

Was it really about school safety?

This one is a difficult one to blog about here as it hits quite close to home.
On Wednesday, the world learned two individuals had been charged with the abduction and murder of Victoria "Tori" Stafford, 8, a Grade 3 student at Oliver Stephens Public School in Woodstock, Ont. Charges stipulate Tori was abducted on April 8 by Terri-Lynne McClintic and Michael Thomas C.S. Rafferty. Those same charges accuse Rafferty of later murdering Stafford in Woodstock or elsewhere in Ontario on or about April 8, aided and abetted by McClintic.
In the ensuing days, two stories (likely more exist) were published in London and Stratford relating to school dismissal policies. At the press conference held by Thames Valley District School Board director of education Bill Tucker on the front steps of Oliver Stephens May 20, the LFP reporter had no questions other than to lay into the director on the board's school dismissal policy. "Are there changes coming? Why not?" were the priority questions for the reporter.
Tucker refused to answer the question that day, coming back the following day to a different set of reporters to admit the board would review its schools' dismissal policies. Other boards are now doing the same, or at least explaining their current policies.
There is no information currently available to suggest Tori was abducted on school property or even within sight of the school's front entrances. She was only ever seen in the now infamous College Avenue Secondary School security camera video, which is several blocks to the north and about halfway between Oliver Stephens and her mother's house.
In the time since her disappearance / abduction April 8, her mother has offered varying explanations for what the procedure was for Tori at dismissal. The school had herself, her boyfriend and one other person (not Rodney Stafford, Tori's dad) listed as the adults responsible. Yet she frequently walked to school when she was living in the co-operative housing project adjacent to the school. Since moving, mom indicated Tori and her brother were often driven to and from school by relatives. Her brother supposedly walked her home every day except for the day in question-- although this information was later contradicted. Tori also frequently, from what has been said, went to her friends' homes after school, walking with them from school. At one point early in this developing story, information was released suggesting she was actually to walk to her uncle's home in the co-operative where she used to live after school (likely to the south, the opposite direction from where Tori was seen on camera). The exact routine, if there ever was one, of her departure from school cannot be accurately confirmed at this point.
During dismissal at this school, the principal and/or vice-principal, EAs and other staff supervise the front entrances of the school. These staff members load the school's buses and monitor the other students as they are either picked up by adults or walk to the homes in the neighbourhood (the board's walking distances are all over one kilometre). With the typography surrounding the front entrance of the school, the supervisors can see up the hills to the edge of the school property to the east, south and north.
If Tori was to walk home by herself that day, staff would have been able to see her as she walked to the sidewalk and then proceeded north. The security camera caught her walking on the other side of the street adjacent to a retirement residence-- out of the line of sight available from Oliver Stephens.
I have opined on this in an earlier post-- Tori's abduction had nothing to do with school safety. There is nothing to suggest the abduction occurred either on school property or within sight of anyone supervising dismissal from the front of the school. Short of having staff hold the hands of every student who walks home from school, how could any change in procedure have produced a different outcome?
Further, where do we draw the line? Where is the line in the commute between school and home where the school is absolved of its responsibility and the parent assumes responsibility for the child's safe arrival at home? In a transient environment like the one it's suggested Tori lived in, who's responsibility is it to ensure the school is kept apprised of changes in guardianship, dismissal, arrival, etc.?
Tori's abduction didn't happen because Oliver Stephens' has or had lax dismissal procedures. It happened because twisted, sick individuals (hopefully the two currently accused and in custody) chose to take her and commit a most horrible crime. While a review of policies -- especially after a situation like this -- is always welcome, let's not lose sight of how this tragedy actually occurred.


Anonymous said...

My child attends Oliver Stephens. The security remains horrendously atrocious. My child's first day of kindergarten I found her outside milling around in a crowd by the dumpsters upon arrival.

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