Secrets in the schools
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.