Sunday, November 12, 2006

Shots Fired! At Montague Public School and the Upper Canada District School Board

A reader of the late and not-lamented-too-much Montague thread wrote me a letter last week, that, although it has to do with an event locally, I suspect would resonate nationally. So I'm posting it here with an invitation to both locals and other readers to discuss the issues involved with security drills (and the seemingly extreme security measures) that are creeping into our schools:

I didn’t think it was possible to get worse around here, but... Madness struck in Montague with a vengeance last week, and most disturbingly it appears to have affected our precious children.

Last week the students of Montague Public School participated in a “Code Red” drill in order to practice the appropriate response to the threat posed by a violent intruder. The first I heard of this particular strain of madness striking was early last month on CFRA’s Lowell Green show. I only caught about 30 seconds of the conversation, was troubled by what I heard, but quickly discounted it. “It’ll never happen here”, I thought. After all, we’re still allowed to say “Merry Christmas” in these parts.

The first mention of this madness spreading to Montague was in the October newsletter from the school. It states …

“Emergency Response Programs are being extended and practiced in our school starting next week. Several varieties of responses will become familiar to the children.

  • Fire Drills – Students will follow the nearest exit to the yard.
  • Tornado Drills – Students will proceed to a designated inside wall and crouch as practiced.
  • Code Red – Students will be secured in the nearest classroom and take cover.

Please discuss this process with your child(ren). We are wanting to practice calm but efficient reactions to emergency situations.”

Despite my initial reservations, my choice was to allow my children to participate. I reasoned that the statistical probability of a violent offender attacking the school was somewhere close to the need to evacuate the school due to fire-- And I’ve never had a problem with fire drills. It’s very sad to say that something like a “Code Red” drill is even thought necessary, but given the recent school shootings in Amish country Pennsylvania society has apparently degenerated to this terrible point.

Test day came last week, and as diligent parents my wife and I advised our children of what to expect. From the observations of my children (admittedly, this is very unreliable) here is how the test was conducted. Try, as best you can, to envision this from the perspective of the youngest of children attending the school (4 or 5 years). The “Code Red” was announced over the intercom. The children are huddled to one area of the classroom while the teacher locks the door and covers the window in the door. Twenty or thirty seconds of silence go by …… This is where the test should end, right? But oh no, for extra “dramatic effect” an OPP officer bangs and kicks (remember, he/she likely had combat boots on) at the classroom door, presumably scaring the bejeezus out of the poor kindergartners. It would likely startle me had I been there.

When my children came home that day, I purposely did not mention the test. I wanted to see if it had any effect on them, and my bringing the subject up would taint the experiment. The following night, my youngest child told me that he/she didn’t want to go to sleep, because he/she didn’t want to have “bad dreams” about the “Code Red”. I reassured him/her and that was the end of it until Saturday. My children brought the exercise up again, and it was then I learned of the banging and kicking.

Suffice to say, I was surprised and angered to hear of the added theatrics at the classroom door. Why was this necessary? During fire drills, will it now be practice to fill the halls with training smoke for extra “dramatic effect” and the element of panic? Of course not, but it sounds like pretty much the same thing to me.

There is no disputing the need to ensure the safety of our children at school. I had occasion to visit the school in the middle of the day, since the test was conducted. Just out of curiosity, I checked the North Entrance of the school, adjacent to the visitors parking. Take a guess at what I found… unlocked doors. No sign of video surveillance. Does it not make sense to take small steps like these to prevent an intruder from entering the school undetected in the first place?

Do I have the correct version of events? Did this affect your children/grandchildren? If so, please explain how. If I have missed any details, please add them. To others who may not have children, but nonetheless contribute via taxes – do you think this is proper?

My intention here is to sort out exactly what took place last week, and a rough gauge of public sentiment on the topic. I can tell you my children will not be participating next year, should this test be repeated.

I don't yet have children in the school system, and we're actually eyeing homeschooling as an option. But I'm still disturbed by this story. How did we get to the point where we have to frighten kids silly in order to protect them from supposed threats such as this?