Bev Hammond is gone. Angèle Bartlett and Lorie Henderson, the two assistant superintendents, are in charge for the moment administratively. Ryan Land is gone. Wally Itson has moved up from being vice-principal to acting principal of R.D. Parker Collegiate. Alexander Ashton is now chair of the board of trustees for the School District of Mystery Lake and Rob Pellizzaro has stepped back just a tad from being chair to vice-chair. What does it all mean?
Not much, really, when all is said and done.
Think shuffling the deck chairs on the Titanic and you’ve pretty much got the picture. Alexander Ashton, in the midst of the banning-Ryan-Land-from-school-property-national-media-firestorm last Dec. 13, said transparency could have gone a long way in preventing the storm that had become an ongoing saga, and communication was a problem that the board needed to look in to.
Might we suggest a few lessons in crisis communications? How about a phone call to start maybe to Michael McCain, chief executive officer of Maple Leaf Foods, Canada's largest meat company, whose packaged meat killed 20 people in a nationwide listeriosis outbreak in 2008. McCain did something novel. He told the truth and he took personal responsibility. He thereby saved the company in the midst of the most serious crisis in its 100-year history.
"To be honest, maybe a lot of this is an outcome due to a lack of communication from the board to, you name it, staff and public," said Ashton, "I have said that there will be a great improvement in that. The board basically needs to focus a lot on improving communications; we need to take a proactive approach. Nobody is to blame but this is something that needs to happen."
Nobody is to blame? Call Michael, Alexander. Really. Man up.
The image of the board as well as the community has no doubt taken a hit, and Ashton said in December the board needs to move forward to take on a positive reputation.
Sounds great, right? So what happens when an R.D. Parker Collegiate student gets caught, as we understand it, in possession of illegal drugs recently on a school trip to Fernie, British Columbia? You tell us. Because your guess would be as good as ours.
Did the student get sent back home to Manitoba? Were half the students on the trip implicated, as some have suggested? Was it cocaine or some other drug or drugs or both? Is it true the whole thing was dealt with internally and RCMP were never notified in either British Columbia or Manitoba by an R.D. Parker teacher or teachers, or any one else at the district, that they had reason to believe a criminal drug-related offence or offences had occurred?
Was the “in-camera student expulsion” item on the SDML’s agenda for Feb. 14 related to the Fernie trip and drugs? And does the SDML have any policy or policies on any of this? Surely, this isn’t the first time in the 50-year history of R.D. Parker since 1962 student drug use has come up?
We’re not asking the school board and its minions to breach The Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act in terms of specific individual students, teachers or other employees, or The Public Schools Act or The Education Administration Act.
What we are asking is for some very basic non-identifying facts. Things like how many students are believed to have been involved in this illegal behaviour? How many, if any, were disciplined, and how were they disciplined?
Were any teachers disciplined?
As for NDP provincial Minister of Education Nancy Allan, here’s the enlightening comment we had sent to us, via e-mail, from Julie DeVoin, communications co-ordinator for Education and Advanced Education and Literacy with Communications Services Manitoba: “The minister supports zero-tolerance on drugs and alcohol.” Uh huh. Thanks, that clears the air on that.
On the question of whether any teachers were disciplined, we can at least draw the inference the answer is “no” from Henderson’s almost totally non-responsive answer to us otherwise on policy questions, when she sent an e-mail to us Feb. 17, saying, “The senior administration office is aware of the situation and fully supports the action taken by the school administration team at R. D. Parker Collegiate.”
Much like Nancy Allan’s response, Henderson’s is a one-sentence answer that says even less, if that’s possible, in response to our policy questions. But we infer, unless told otherwise, “fully supports the action taken by the school administration team at R. D. Parker Collegiate,” means no teachers or other SDML employees were disciplined. That’s grand. Whatever their action might have been.
“Trust us,” is the only and contemptuous message the board sends out to the public, its employer, by its silence.
“We’re the board of education and we know what’s best for your kids. Just give us a blank cheque – not just monetarily through your school property tax levy – but in every area of your child’s education. And stop asking us inconvenient questions about drugs or anything else and wanting us to be accountable.
Frankly, we don’t give a damn what you think.”