Communication is key

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For readers who are wondering why The Highlander hasn’t reported on a pair of serious incidents that took place at Haliburton Highlands Secondary School this month, there is a simple explanation.

A complete and utter lack of communication on the part of Trillium Lakelands District School Board.

I was a little embarrassed when, on April 4, I received a couple of phone calls from local residents looking for information about an apparent hold and secure that took place at the high school earlier that day. I had nothing.

I reached out to the board’s communications department that evening asking for any details that I could pass on to the community. Almost 24 hours later, I received a response confirming an incident had occurred, but that no further information would be released.

I reached out again to ask why. By this point, all sorts of rumours were swirling around town. I’d heard a student had been caught with a gun in their locker, a student was seen running through the halls waving around a replica weapon, someone had been caught with a large knife in their backpack, and that a student had been attacked.

TLDSB insist parents were notified of the incident, but The Highlander has heard from several who still claim to have no knowledge of what happened that day.

After being pressed again for details this week, the board said they were remaining tight-lipped at the behest of the responding OPP officers.
“We have been instructed not to include detail as it often encourages copy-cat behaviour,” was the direct quote.

This raised alarm bells and got me thinking something really serious had happened. And in such an event, I didn’t think it was right the community was being left in the dark. So, I reached out to the OPP on Monday to ask if this was true. Within hours, a press release had been posted to the force’s public portal addressing the situation. It didn’t anwer my questions, but it was something.

In its release, the OPP claims it did not locate any weapons at the school. There were no injuries reported. The investigation is still ongoing.
That it took two weeks for this information to see the light of day is disappointing. I feel a lot of misinformation, and stress, could have been prevented if all of this came out, say, the day of, or at the latest, the day after the event.

There was another incident this week that I learned about through second-hand sources. A parent posted a notice to Facebook on Monday, stating the science wing had to be evacuated after a small quantity of a toxic substance, described as “possibly arsenic”, was spilled during a class.

A student was sent to hospital, while the Peterborough Fire Department’s hazardous materials management unit were brought in to investigate.

Again, I reached out to TLDSB for details. Again, the silence was deafening. I didn’t receive a response until a full day later.

We don’t expect to be the first call, certainly not in the event of an emergency, but a heads up so that we can, at the very least, calm worried parents or family members, or nip dangerous rumours in the bud, would be appreciated. In fact, I’d say the board has a responsibility to do so.

Communication is key in these kinds of situations, and I feel our public school board, and the OPP, owes it to the community to make sure it does a better job of keeping people in the loop moving forward.