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EDUCATION

TVDSB says pupils can't walk alone to or from their portable during the day

By Kelly Pedro, The London Free Press

(Photo illustration by Craig Glover, The London Free Press)

(Photo illustration by Craig Glover, The London Free Press)

Bubble-wrapping kids, by trying to prevent even theoretical exposure to remote danger — such as the Thames Valley District school board’s rule kids can’t walk to or from a portable alone — teaches kids to be fearful, one critic says.

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Is 60 metres too far for a 12-year-old to walk alone during the day in a school yard?

Apparently so.

On the heels of a reported incident at one elementary school last June — a reported attack on a schoolgirl that never took place — the Thames Valley District school board has ruled pupils can’t walk between a school and a portable without at least one other person.

The new rule plays on the idea of safety in numbers and was put in place after the reported incident at Sir George-Etienne Cartier elementary school, said Karen Edgar, the public board’s superintendent responsible for safe schools.

In that reported incident, a schoolgirl told police she was attacked by a masked man while she was walking alone between the school and her portable after a bathroom break.

Police revealed the next day the attack never took place, but that didn’t stop the board from putting the new rule in place.

The public board has 134 elementary schools and 235 active portables.

“Diligent supervision is always a good idea. This is certainly one easy measure we can put in place that can hopefully avert something from potentially happening,” said Edgar. “Lucky that it wasn’t a real situation, but sometimes it takes an event to make you step back and think here’s something simple we can put in place and do differently just in case it was the real thing.”

But one expert said rules like that only teach children they can’t trust anyone and they’re only safe if they’re in a locked classroom or at home with their parents.

“People love to be afraid. They want to feel like they’re under siege. They feel good about coming to the rescue of kids and if kids don’t need rescuing, then by golly we’ll come up with something they need rescuing from so we can show that we’re doing something and we’re proactive and we care,” said Lenore Skenazy, a public speaker and author of the book Free-Range Kids, who is based in New York City.

Free-Range Kids, she said, battles the message that our children are in constant danger.

“What if I said there was a rabid raccoon, which is vaguely possible? Should we put raccoon traps in all of the classrooms? Raccoons, if they’re rabid, could kill you,” she said.

Children are safest when they’re part of a well-woven community, said Skenazy, not when they’re hustled home after school or told they can’t go outside without being threatened.

“It sends such an awful, community-­killing message, which is that nobody is to be trusted. And what’s worse is it’s not even based on anything.”

Before last June’s reported incident, many Thames Valley schools already expected pupils in portables to go to the washroom in pairs. But the new rule mandates the practice.

And while there aren’t many board-wide policies in Ontario about the buddy system, it’s a practice that happens frequently in Ontario schools with portables, said Michael Barrett, president of the Ontario Public School Boards’ Association.

The rule change didn’t come before school board trustees, but trustees did ask staff to come up with a procedure that would support safety for pupils travelling between portables after the reported incident at Cartier, said Joyce Bennett, chairperson of the Thames Valley school board.

Edgar and Bennett said they haven’t heard any complaints from parents about the new rule.

kelly.pedro@sunmedia.ca

twitter.com/KellyatLFPress

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ABOUT THE NEW RULE

  • Elementary pupils can’t walk alone between the school building and portable during the day.
  • The rule was borne out of the false report by one schoolgirl who said she was attacked while walking back to her portable last June.
  • The Thames Valley District school board has 235 active portables.
  • Most Ontario school boards don’t have such a policy, but most schools in the province practice the “buddy system.”

Poll

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