Schools need to embrace transparency

Officials of the Glendale School District were criticized by parents and others last month for the way they handled information connected with a perceived threat.

The district’s immediate response apparently was handled correctly; a lockdown was imposed and police were called. However, days after the incident, numerous parents and others believed they still were lacking important specifics related to the incident — and that the district was withholding information intentionally.

Complaints also accused the district of being anemic in terms of quick assurances to families that their children were not in danger.

Presumably, the handling of the incident is being subjected to a thorough evaluation. Assuming that, it seems necessary that time be set aside within the public venue of a school board meeting to review findings of that evaluation, and for assurances that there will be better communication if such an unfortunate situation ever again were to take place.

Earlier in December, the Westmont Hilltop School District in suburban Johnstown dealt with an alleged threat on social media targeting the student body, without triggering anger over the district’s handling of incident-related information.

It’s true the alleged threat was found at a time when classes weren’t in session, and the district had the “luxury” of canceling classes for a day while the incident was investigated.

Still, district residents apparently were satisfied with officials’ distribution of information, unlike Glendale residents.

Meanwhile, three days after the Glendale incident, on Dec. 21, Cambria Heights School District administrators found it necessary to impose a lockdown at the elementary school in Carrolltown due to what was described as a “suspicious man” having entered the building.

Like at Westmont, Cambria Heights officials weren’t subsequently accused of having held back information that district residents were entitled to know quickly.

Even with Cambria Heights officials’ expediency in trying to put out as much information as possible, rumors lacking any credibility were up and running virtually within minutes.

What should have been clear prior to Glendale’s Dec. 18 incident is that “open windows” for anxiety and agitation aren’t in that district’s — or any other school district’s — best interests.

Fortunately for Glendale and the other two districts, an actual crisis was not in play; each incident ended up being nothing more than instructive.

The Westmont threat was traced to a 12-year-old. Meanwhile, there really wasn’t a “suspicious man” at the Cambria Heights school. A high school student transferring buses on his way back from the Admiral Peary Vocational-Technical Center had entered the school to use a bathroom.

Within a couple of days at Cambria Heights, administrators began discussions about additional or new security measures.

The Glendale incident allegedly had evolved from information on social media about threatened gun violence. The consequence of the communication deemed inadequate from the district was that many parents, feeling uncomfortable about whether they had been told all relevant details, chose to keep their children at home on Dec. 19.

With students returning from their Christmas-New Year’s break, all districts again are tasked with ensuring the safety of their students.

The three incidents last month were a reminder that districts also have an important obligation to parents and guardians at the same time.

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