Whitehorse Daily Star

The Department of Education dropped the ball (Editorial)

Suppose a sexual offence has occurred in the general area your child spends much of his or her day in.

By Whitehorse Star on August 27, 2021

Suppose a sexual offence has occurred in the general area your child spends much of his or her day in. As a parent, would you want to be promptly, accurately informed of that event, or be left in a state of oblivious ignorance?

If your response reflects a natural desire to have that knowledge shared with you, the territorial Department of Education has shown it stands in fervent disagreement with you – and the implications are extremely troubling.

Earlier this summer, it became known that in 2020, a then-educational assistant (EA) at the Hidden Valley School had been jailed for a 2019 instance of sexual interference against a child at the school.

The proper and intelligent approach, one demonstrating a degree of respect for the interests of the parents of the school community, would have seen the department be upfront from the day officials learned of the incident.

It could have – and should have – outlined the situation in a general way that would have done nothing to divulge the slightest clue to the student’s identity nor unnecessary details about the crime.

The department should have volunteered to entertain telephoned, emailed or even face-to-face communications with concerned parents and guardians.

The families should have been reminded of the various counselling and support services available to anyone requiring them.

The department should then have emphasized that the accused had immediately been removed from the school, and have reassured parents that their sons’ and daughters’ personal safety is and always will be its primary concern.

It should then have noted that this was an extremely isolated event, and there was no further risk of anyone suffering harm.

The department should then have summarized the safeguards in place to help foil a potential recurrence at Hidden Valley – and in all schools.

Finally, it should have told parents they would be kept abreast of the legal proceedings as they evolved. That would have comprised a wise recognition that not all busy families can regularly monitor mainstream media.

There would have been no legal concerns in immediately taking these steps. They would not have prejudiced the accused’s right to a fair trial. The victim’s parents had not yet launched their civil suit against the offender and the territorial government.

According to the parents connected to the school community, very few or none of these measures ever occurred.

Instead, the department chose official silence and secrecy, clumsily surrendering its control of the situation to the volatile field of rumour, anger and innuendo.

Predictably, when the offender’s conviction and sentencing were reported, parents were shocked and furious that they had received no information from either the school or the department.

What had been hatched as negative but manageable bad news exploded into a full-fledged public relations fiasco that isn’t over.

The department was castigated by parents and Yukon Party MLA Brad Cathers in letters to the Star, and via interviews from incensed, dumbfounded parents over electronic media.

Annette King, the territory’s child and youth advocate, appropriately announced her office is launching a systemic review of the entire affair.

That prompted Education Minister Jeanie McLean to suggest King lacks the authority to conduct a review – a position the advocate rejects as misinformed.

The independent advocate for the safety and security of our youngest, most defenceless citizens can’t examine an extremely disturbing situation that occurred in a large children’s milieu?

Say again?

If, as McLean argues, King’s intentions are not supported in legislation, the government should stop being an obstacle to her constructive work and be prepared to reform the law.

The most despicable figure in this saga is the person who callously betrayed the trust of an innocent child and committed an invasive criminal act.

Nonetheless, the persons responsible for failing to enlighten the parents about such a critical event ought to re-examine the definition of the word woven into the fabric of their profession – “education”.

Its meaning includes the dissemanation of important knowledge – whether that centres on the pre-1867 history of Canada, or the commission of a sexual offence on a school’s premises.

The sooner the relevant figures in the system realize they are not self-appointed pseudo-parents, freely censoring information about urgent, child-related matters the genuine parents should unhesitatingly be notified of, the better off children and their families will be.

Did it ever occur to Education bureaucrats that some of the youngsters may have been confused and traumatized by the former EA’s sudden disappearance, amid hearsay and gossip?

Did no one within the school/department environments reflect that some of these kids may have wanted to discuss their wonderment and potential anxieties with their parents?

And that handicapping these parents with a counterproductive suffocation of information impaired their ability to reassure their children? That the best parent is the best-informed parent?

As Cathers perceptively wrote, the Deparment of Education has damaged the vital bond of trust between itself and Hidden Valley School parents – and parents across the territory.

Did those in charge honestly believe that failing to disclose this occurrence served those parents whose children the ex-EA had worked with previously?

Was there no realization that it may have been useful to have advised parents of the incident so they could tactfully question their children about their possible dealings with the offender?

In today’s age of information-sharing, how is it that the department/schools capably provide parents with an annual supplies list that’s detailed right down to the last pencil required – but remain mute about a sexual offence committed on elementary school property?

What, if any, role did then-Education minister Tracy-Anne McPhee play in how the communications aspect of this affair was so deplorably managed?

In their letter in the Aug. 2 Star, the Concerned Parents of Hidden Valley School described themselves as “appalled” by the department’s performance on the matter.

As reported in today’s Star, Hidden Valley principal John Duclos writes to parents, “We will all need to continue to work together, support one another, and advocate for the needs of our families.”


Lamentably, that sound philosophy appears to be missing in action amid the higher-ups at the Department of Education.

The optics portray an entity that remains bogged down in protective, 1950s-era thinking, rather than a practitioner of frank, effective communication strategies for the 21st century.

Question: have valuable lessons in the virtues of transparency been learned by those in such obvious need of learning them in this government, which happens to be headed by a career educator?

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