May 6, 2014 5:12 pm

Parents concerned after incident with student at Sherwood Park school

Brentwood Elementary School, of the Elk Island Public School district, in Sherwood Park. May 6, 2014

Global News

EDMONTON – Some parents of Brentwood Elementary School students are concerned for their children’s safety after receiving a letter warning of a situation with a student.

“My heart is heavy for this child,” said Chantal Thompson, whose children attend the Sherwood Park school. “But, at the end of the day, these are my three children. You send them to school thinking they are going to be safe.

“My kids do not want to go to school,” she added.

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A letter was sent home to parents on May 5 from the school principal and the associate superintendent of Elk Island Public Schools.

“As you might already be aware, a student in Grade 4 was involved in a situation April 22, 2014 that has caused a great deal of concern on the part of the Brentwood School community and the Elk Island Public School District,” it reads. (The full letter is posted below).

“In this particular situation, due to the potential seriousness of the incident and to offer reassurance to the Brentwood community, letters were sent home to the parents of the student’s classmates and a meeting was arranged with the associate superintendent last week.”

The letter goes on to explain that, due to privacy legislation, school districts are prevented from sharing many details with parents.

“In order to offer additional reassurance to the community, the parent of the child involved has agreed to share with the Brentwood School community some of the actions that the family and district staff have taken since this incident,” the letter states.

“Community agencies including Mental Health are working with the family to ensure ongoing support and provide regular counselling. The student is working with a teacher, will not be returning to the classroom this school year nor will the student be accessing recess or lunch break at the same time as other students.”

The letter also says the student will be supervised by school staff at all times.

The RCMP school resource officer will be at the school, as part of her regular assignment, to offer reassurance and support. Resource officers are not usually posted in full-time positions at elementary schools.

Still, some parents are worried about the safety of their children at the school.

“They are not allowed to tell us too much,” said Thompson. “All that we know was there was an incident that happened at school, and they’re dealing with it.

“My eight-year-old … was up to one o’clock in the morning crying, having a tummy ache, not wanting to go to school.”

“She asked us what she would do if this child came after her. As a mom of an eight-year-old child, how do you respond to that? My husband and I did mention to her, ‘we are here to protect you.’ Her response is ‘you’re not at school.’”

Thompson was part of a group of parents who met with the district’s associate superintendent on Tuesday morning to discuss their concerns.

“I am more than upset. I am frustrated. We are here right now trying to talk to the superintendent and we are getting absolutely nowhere.”

The Elk Island Public School district cannot comment on the specific case. However, associate superintendent Eileen Zimmerman said safety is a top priority.

“We have many things that we do to make sure that, every day, kids are safe from the minute they come to school until they leave. We do everything we can do to make sure they’re safe.”

Zimmerman added that, in this situation, the students are “absolutely” safe.

“And we absolutely take parent concerns seriously and want to make sure we are doing everything that parents expect of us.”

However, she says there are details about the incident that cannot be shared.

“We’re always willing to share with parents as much information as we can. Sometimes, we can’t share as much information as parents would like us to,” said Zimmerman.

“We also have to balance the rights and responsibilities we have to protect privacy for all.”

Several parents who spoke to Global News on the phone say they understand the delicate balance the school board must strike, but don’t feel comfortable simply trusting that their children are safe. They also question why it took two weeks for parents to be informed of the incident.

“On April 22, this incident occurred at Brentwood School, and now, it’s May 6, and it turns out that we are now getting the information,” said Dwayne Ellis, whose children are Brentwood students. “I think that the school board failed to invite all parents to come to this meeting so that we are able to voice our opinions.”

“My biggest concern is that we want to ensure that there’s more protection in the schools and that there are policies and procedures that are properly in place,” Ellis added.

He would have liked the district to have a stronger response in this situation.

“They have taken the precautions to a certain point, but it’s just not strong enough to the point that our kids will be fully protected.”

The RCMP told Global News that, because of the age of the child, there is no criminal investigation.

The RCMP also said they are aware of the situation at the school and are working with several agencies to address concerns.

Brentwood Elementary School has about 500 students and 45 staff members.

Letter to Brentwood Parents from Elk Island Public Schools, May 5, 2014

© Shaw Media, 2014