12/01/06 — Openness works: School officials made mistake by holding report of weapon

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Openness works: School officials made mistake by holding report of weapon

Wayne County School District officials made a tactical error this week when they decided to wait three days rather than sending a letter out immediately to parents to let them know that a gun was found on a student at Spring Creek High School.

Obviously, some of those involved in the decision have never played the child’s game of telephone.

Just because you have an incident that only involves one or two children and just because there weren’t that many people who were aware of what happened, doesn’t mean that word is not going to to get out to the rest of the student population and their parents.

And when a community does not have the full story, the actual report that parents, grandparents and others hear — and pass along — might be a pretty serious distortion of what really happened.

And that is when panic hits and a controlled situation becomes a problem.

Rumors distort truth. That’s a given.

So, rather than wait for the community to catch up — school officials should have made sure they knew, up front, what happened — and that they had the situation under control.

There might very well have been no reason to panic. And there might not even have been a reason to be concerned about sending your child to school the next day, but there was absolutely a need for an immediate and reasoned response that was shared with the parents of the students who attend the school.

If the school district, as its officials told the media Thursday, really does take guns in schools as serious offenses, there is no reason there should have been a delay in communicating what occurred and the action taken. The school officials addressed the issue quickly, competently and with the safety of the students as paramount.

There was no need to hide the event. Parents are not going to think that because a child was discovered with an unloaded gun at school that there are 300 students wandering around the hallways with guns.

By hiding the fact that there was an incident, school officials only succeeded in making parents think there was a reason to worry — that there might have been more to the incident that they weren’t telling — and weren’t going to tell until they were forced to.

In the wake of the Columbine High School murders, communities get nervous about reports of weapons in schools. By communicating openly and honestly, school officials can allay their fears, and protect the public at the same time.

Published in Editorials on December 1, 2006 12:48 PM