At least one parent with a child at Whitehorse’s F.H. Collins Secondary School says officials should have informed parents sooner about a police investigation over “threatening graffiti” found at the school last week — and that they should have been clearer about what that threat was.
Whitehorse resident Kirk Cameron, whose son attends the high school, said he received an email from F.H. Collins Principal Bruce Thomson the afternoon of April 13 informing parents about an RCMP investigation into “threatening graffiti” found on a washroom stall the day before.
The message said that police had deemed it safe for staff and students to remain at the school, but Cameron said that, due to a vagueness of the message and the delay, rumours which would later prove false had already began circulating on social media that the graffiti had threatened a school shooting.
“When terminology like ‘threat’ is used and again, somebody gets on to this notion that it’s possibly a shooting … as a parent, you can only imagine the issue being something like (the) mass shootings in schools in the United States, right? So the whole thought that this could be that big of an issue, it absolutely caught my attention as a parent,” Cameron said.
“If I’d had the email from the principal as soon as this thing started to percolate on Thursday, it would’ve dispelled … most of my concerns. I probably still would have been in contact with the school to get more details but I certainly wouldn’t have been left there on Friday afternoon thinking, ‘Well, there could have been a shooter in the school sometime on Friday.’”
Yukon RCMP spokesperson Coralee Reid said she could not provide details on the graffiti as it’s part of an ongoing investigation, but confirmed that it did not reference a potential shooting nor appear to be specifically directed at anyone.
In an interview April 16, department of education spokesperson Kyle Nightingale said that the priority in situations like the one at F.H. Collins on April 12 is “to protect the health and safety of the school and students and school staff.”
“On Friday morning, the school became aware that some misinformation was spreading on social media and among students, and there were some concerns from parents, so the school sent out current information in a note on Friday afternoon to parents to clarify that the RCMP has assessed the risk as low and advised school to remain open,” Nightingale said.
“It’s really important to us that we make sure we have the most up-to-date and accurate information form the RCMP and when this sort of situation is going on, that’s really what’s taking place, is we’re coordinating with the RCMP to make sure we have the most accurate, up-to-date information and that’s when we get it out to parents.”
Cameron, however, said that officials could have prevented that spread of misinformation had they informed parents of the situation sooner, and with clearer language about the nature and severity of the threat.
“Terminology like ‘threat’ connotes something more substantial than what would come out if someone had said, ‘There had been graffiti on the wall in a bathroom that caused us some concern,’ or something…. it’s important that the communication come from the principal, from the school, to say, ‘This is the nature of the issue that we’re facing, don’t worry about it,’ or, ‘Do worry about it,’” he said.
Cameron added, though, that education officials have been “extremely receptive” to his concerns. On top of responding to emails and calls about the situation over the weekend, Cameron said Thomson, superintendent Lorraine Taillefer and director of student support Services Karen Campbell met with him at the morning of April 16 to discuss how the situation and hear Cameron’s feedback.
Among the recommendations that Cameron gave them were a clear path for principals to communicate with parents and to set up a meeting between officials from the school, department of education and police and parents so that each side can better understand the needs of the other.
“I just want to make sure the priority is set on getting timely and good information to parents so things like this, like social media, don’t get in the way of parents and students understanding what’s going on,” Cameron said.
Contact Jackie Hong at firstname.lastname@example.org