Mark Arike: Pressing for answers
|By Mark Arike - Staff Writer | December 7, 2017|
For the past couple of weeks, we’ve spent a considerable amount of time trying to get a better understanding of how schools in Haliburton County handle bullying and what is being done to protect students dealing with it.
That’s because young people and their parents have openly expressed their frustration with the system and many have taken shots at staff, the school board and police. A lot of that angst has been directed at Haliburton Highlands Secondary School (HHSS), where one young teen died suddenly in May.
Since there’s always two sides to a story, we reached out to principal Dan Marsden, the Trillium Lakelands District School (TLDSB) and the Haliburton Highlands OPP. And right out of the gate, we discovered the barrier of bureaucracy.
A list of about a dozen pointed questions were sent to Dianna Dauphinee, the OPP’s media relations officer for the area. We wanted to know how many times police have been called to HHSS in the last two years and if any complaints have led to criminal charges. We also asked for specifics about the work Dauphinee does in schools, particularly around bullying.
What we received was a canned response—which recently appeared in another local news story—about the OPP’s position and the judicial system. We pressed for information and were told the OPP wouldn’t provide further comment due to the “scope” of the questions. We learned Dauphinee is following orders and that only an FOI request could get us more.
We realize the importance of confidentiality, especially if there’s an ongoing investigation involving minors. But it’s also a barrier to uncovering how situations have been handled—and evaluating whether the response was effective.
In an email to Marsden and the TLDSB’s communication manager, Catherine Shedden, we requested statistics about bullying incidents to only find out no such information is gathered. Shedden also told us there’s no data on how many parents have been called or emailed about these incidents, and they didn’t know how many times police may have been called to the school.
Without this information, how does the community know what’s happening? Is bullying getting worse? Have reports skyrocketed since the advent of social media? Maybe it’s not as bad as it’s made out to be.
And perhaps the principal—the most senior staffer who is around students every day—should be allowed to share his insights. Protocol forces him to redirect media inquiries to Shedden and the board. We haven’t heard from him on this issue, either.
TLDSB and HHSS should do a better job of record-keeping and make that information readily available, when it’s warranted. Increased transparency is what the community needs as it tries to heal.
MARK ARIKE is a reporter for The Highlander.