Se­crets in the schools

The Guardian (Charlottetown) - - EDITORIAL -

Those who over­see ed­u­ca­tion in P.E.I. dropped the ball ear­lier this year by not in­form­ing the pub­lic of a po­ten­tial health haz­ard at an Is­land school. The ques­tion now is, what will re­sult from the lack of trans­parency now that it’s come to light, and how can ed­u­ca­tion of­fi­cials re­gain the trust of Is­land par­ents when it comes to the wel­fare of their chil­dren?

Back in March, con­struc­tion crews ren­o­vat­ing Three Oaks Se­nior High in Sum­mer­side breached safety pro­to­cols three times in their re­moval of lead paint and ceil­ing tiles that con­tain­ing 1-3 per cent as­bestos.

Work halted and both the Work­ers Com­pen­sa­tion Board and TOSH staff were no­ti­fied. The work ar­eas were shut down, cleaned ac­cord­ing to proper pro­ce­dure and re­opened af­ter air sam­ples came back clean.

What didn’t hap­pen was the Pub­lic Schools Branch and the Ed­u­ca­tion De­part­ment let­ting par­ents know about the risk to their chil­dren.

It’s a cour­tesy we should de­mand be ex­tended to the pub­lic by those re­spon­si­ble for over­see­ing our schools and stu­dents.

The only rea­son the safety breaches came to light is be­cause Op­po­si­tion ed­u­ca­tion critic Steven My­ers read about them months later in emails ob­tained through a free­dom of in­for­ma­tion re­quest.

“While (the PSB’s school safety con­sul­tant Chris Keefe) feels the ex­po­sures in these cases are low and hope­fully the risk to stu­dents and staff is also low, it will be an is­sue that needs to be com­mu­ni­cated to TOSH staff, and at some point in the near fu­ture, some­one will likely need to com­mu­ni­cate these events to others also,” PSB di­rec­tor Parker Grim­mer wrote to deputy Ed­u­ca­tion min­is­ter Su­san Wil­lis on March 3.

In a state­ment this week, though, a de­part­ment spokesper­son said there was no need to com­mu­ni­cate the breaches to par­ents be­cause “stu­dents and teach­ers were not per­mit­ted in the area and were not deemed at risk.”

This seems to con­tra­dict Grim­mer’s as­sess­ment that the in­ci­dents would have to be “com­mu­ni­cated to others.” It’s dif­fi­cult to imag­ine who else he could be re­fer­ring to here, if not par­ents.

The point is, a risk — even a low one — is still a risk, and par­ents have a right to know when one exists for their sons and daugh­ters. We’d wager most par­ents with chil­dren in school across the prov­ince would want to know if some­thing like this hap­pened, no mat­ter how se­ri­ous.

Let’s hope the Pub­lic Schools Branch and the De­part­ment of Ed­u­ca­tion get their act to­gether and fig­ure out how to be more open and hon­est from here on out.

Par­ents may ex­pect chil­dren to hide a bad re­port card or test re­sult. They shouldn’t have to con­tend with the adults keep­ing se­crets from them, too.

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