This column by LCS Superintendent Matt Wandrie was published in the December 2012 edition of News & Views:
This most recent tragedy serves as a reminder that evil truly does exist in this world. It also reminded me of the philosopher John Stuart Mill’s famous quote, perhaps truer today than when he penned it 150 years ago:
“Bad men need nothing more to compass their ends, than that good men should look on and do nothing.”
The Monday after the unthinkable happened, I sent my three children off to school the same way I always have. Only it wasn’t the same. My experience that day was probably not altogether different than it was for many of you, when you entrusted your most precious gifts to a bus driver, principal and teacher.My life is a precarious balancing act, always angling toward parent on one end and superintendent on the other. As a parent, my heart breaks for the families who lost loved ones, the students who lost friends and a community forever changed.
As a superintendent, my focus remains on shepherding the nearly 6,000 students in this school district. The safety of these students is, and always has been, the primary concern of everyone entrusted with this vital vocation we all share as educators. My responsibility as superintendent is first to students, to do everything within my power to ensure a safe and productive experience in schools every day.
During the last week before break, forces outside of my control forced me to make an uncomfortable but necessary decision. On Dec. 20-21, I, along with every other superintendent in Lapeer, Genesee and Sanilac Counties, decided to cancel classes at all school buildings.
This decision was made in cooperation with local police agencies after threats made at schools in neighboring districts and rumors of threats that began to spiral out of control. It is important to note that none of the threats were substantiated by local law enforcement agencies, but the damage had already been done.
As texting and tweeting have become preferred modes of communication for so many students and parents, it’s even more difficult for school officials to stem the tide of information and misinformation that is circulated in a matter of minutes. During the week, rumors and speculation about violence in schools compelled many parents in our district to keep their students out of school, some even pulled their children out in the middle of the day.
The environment these rampant rumors and speculation created in our buildings was not productive, and my colleagues agreed that the best decision for our students was to call off the final two days of classes. Since the cancellations took our students by surprise, our secondary buildings and most of our elementary buildings were opened for a short period of time for students to collect their personal effects (books, band instruments,etc.) prior to Christmas break.
In the meantime, we have begun in earnest a process to identify important steps we can take as a district to improve student safety protocols including: district and building-level reviews, meetings with local law enforcement officials and superintendents, a bulletin to staff with talking points on student safety, a recorded video message to the community, review of lockdown and secure mode drills and solicitations to staff members for avenues to improve safety in individual buildings.
Since I have the responsibility of keeping the students in this district safe, I cannot be dismissive of any threat, or rumor of threat. All have to be investigated and, unfortunately, when the level of hysteria becomes obstructive to the learning experience, a decision has to be made.
Sadly, this was the perfect storm; I was reluctant to make the decision and I’m not comfortable with the message it sends; but, I will always err on the side of student safety. I ask for nothing less from the people who care for my children as I care for so many of yours.