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Protection to Excess

September 7, 2013 permalink

The National Post comments on the excessive protection of children. All Ontario schools must keep children under lock and key, controlling all visitor access during school hours.



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National Post editorial board: Panic in the schoolyard

We must resist the impulse to respond to every isolated tragedy with new regulations.

A new school year began on Tuesday, and Toronto’s often hysteria-prone news crews were geared up for the scare stories that always get served up by nervous parents this time of year.

It didn’t take long. A four-year-old Scarborough boy wandered into the wrong classroom on his first day in school, wearing the wrong nametag, and wasn’t immediately spotted. Cue panic: The police were notified, an alert went out, dozens of police with a K-9 unit turned up to scour the neighbourhood, terror spread. The little boy watched it all obliviously, until teachers spotted the mistake.

Later the same day, another four-year-old, named Alexander, got off the bus at the wrong stop after classes. He wasn’t far from home and was quickly spotted by a daycare worker who noticed a tag on his backpack and called the school. The principal promptly arrived to pick him up and return him to his parents. The bus company delivers almost 50,000 kids a day on 1,600 routes, but Alexander’s plight made local newspapers, radio bulletins and Twitter updates. His father was irate, the bus company was on the hot seat, experts were consulted to discuss what could be done to prevent a recurrence. The notion that, in a city of several million, a child occasionally will get off at the wrong stop, wasn’t considered.

Security is a legitimate concern — especially where children are concerned. And parents naturally slip into terror mode whenever a possible threat to their child arises. But Canadian schools now take the cake when it comes to hitting DEFCON 1 whenever a kid gets off at the wrong stop or spots a peanut in the lunch room.

This hysterical spirit now has found its way into province-wide legislation. As Raymond J. de Souza wrote in Thursday’s edition of the National Post, an Ontario law — hastily drafted to respond to last year’s Sandy Hook elementary-school shootings in Connecticut — requires that the province’s schools impose lock-and-buzzer policies on all building entrances during school hours — even small schools in safe areas where everyone knows everyone. Thanks to former Premier Dalton McGuinty’s Liberal government, every mother delivering a forgotten lunch now has to be approved before she can get in the door.

The driver of Alexander’s bus had a list identifying how many kids were to get off at each stop, but wasn’t allowed to know their names for “security” reasons. The bus company had considered providing photographs to the drivers, but again feared unspecified “security” concerns. Over-reacting in the approved manner, the company is now considering radio frequency identification tags that could be attached to backpacks so every child on every bus could be monitored at every moment. A decade ago, this would have seemed idiotic, or evidence of a creeping police state. Now it’s seen as sensible corporate practice.

Last year, a suburban Toronto woman asked city council to cut down trees near her daughter’s school, because they dropped acorns, to which her child was allergic. Thankfully, she came in for considerable criticism for trying to “child-proof” the world rather than simply teaching her child to avoid acorns. (“For as many people that may be allergic to acorns, I’m sure there’s a lot of people that are allergic to bees,” said one councilor sensibly. “What are we going to do about that? Are we going to exterminate all the bees?”) But in coming years, as the mania for safety becomes more acute, who knows? Acorns may become the new peanuts.

Tragedies do happen. A 14-year-old Toronto girl was killed this week when she was hit by a truck near a school. It was a tragic event, certainly. But the response from the local councillor was farcical: a call to consider banning trucks near schools any time students are likely to be outside. Why not parks and hospitals, while we’re at it?

Canadian schools are extremely safe. As Father de Souza noted Thursday, there hasn’t been a shooting at a Canadian elementary school in two decades. And tragedies such as the 2009 abduction of Victoria Stafford near her school are rare: Indeed, to the limited extent children abductions occur in Canada, children are far more likely to be taken from their home by an estranged family member.

We, and our politicians, must resist the impulse to respond to every isolated tragedy, or spasm of anxiety, with new regulations and security protocols whose only effect will be to make life more complicated and tiresome for parents and educators.

Source: National Post

Father Raymond J. de Souza: Locked doors, imaginary dangers

Ontario is creating school policy based on fears stoked by a single American psychopath.

Back to school this week. Open the doors to the children. And then lock them again. A new Ontario ministry of education policy mandates that all doors at all elementary schools should be locked, with the front door having a security system to buzz in all visitors.

Like most rural communities, our local school is not just a school, but a vital centre for the community. While the first- to eighth-graders are in their classes, their younger brothers and sisters are often down the hall in the “early years centre” where parents bring their babies and toddlers to play.

All manner of community activities take place in the school, many after hours when the students are not present, but some during the school day. On Wolfe Island, the parish cemetery is across the street from our school, so receptions after funerals are usually held in the school. It’s a practical thing, but a good lesson for the students to see that death and mourning and comforting their grieving neighbours are part of life.

All of this will become more difficult under the “locked door” policy. Former premier Dalton McGuinty announced the policy last December as an explicit response to the grisly massacre at Sandy Hook Elementary in Newtown, Connecticut. Never mind that Sandy Hook already had a locked door policy with a buzzer for admission. Never mind that in the past 20 years, there has not been a single shooting or death at a Canadian elementary school. Never mind that the students play outside during recess anyway. Never mind that at our school, the office secretary works mornings only, so any afternoon visitors will have to ring the bell and force teachers to leave their classrooms to answer the door. Never mind that the policy makes no allowance for differences in communities, forcing places where people leave their keys in their vehicles to now lock their children in school.

Aside from the unnecessary cost and inconvenience the policy inflicts, it also changes the nature of the school. The ministry prattles on endlessly about making schools welcoming places and fostering good relationships with the community. The locked door does neither, and in fact is implicitly insulting to those communities where violence has never occurred. An American psychopath overcame the security system at Sandy Hook, so Queens’ Park decrees that gentle Wolfe Islanders must have their open and informal ways impeded.

Were the massed ranks of psychologists employed by Ontario’s educational establishment consulted on this? Does a child feel safer in a building where every door is locked against imagined dangers outside? Is a child happier if, during recess, she wants to run inside to use the bathroom, or because she forgot her toque, she confronts a locked door? Is it not plausible that children may feel more safe and secure in a school that reflects that they actually live in a safe and secure, not to mention friendly, community?

In most rural places, the locked door policy sends a false message. The church, the store, the post office, the coffee shop are all safe and open places, but the school is dangerous.

Over the summer I had occasion to be in Stamford, CT, not far from Newtown. The father of Adam Lanza, the Sandy Hook killer, put his Stamford home up for sale and it made the front page of the local paper. That’s a community understandably traumatized by violence. Real estate transactions are seen through the prism of the shooting. The fact that Peter Lanza, whose ex-wife (Adam’s mother) was the first one killed by Adam that day, might want to leave the community is newsworthy.

But most Ontario communities have not been traumatized by this type of violence, and the likelihood that they ever will be is as close to nil as can be. To see their schools through the prism of faraway violence is absurd, and to disrupt perfectly functioning communities is foolish.

It is a perverse policy. What Adam Lanza did in Newtown was horrific enough. Why should Ontario want to expand the indirect impact of his killings to Wolfe Island?

Source: National Post