School violence requires disclosure


The item in the police blotter stood out like a sore thumb.

Amid the usual laundry list of people picked up on warrants and jailed for possession of drugs was this item in Friday's paper:

"A student at Craig Middle School used a shirt to choke another student unconscious. The incident occurred inside the school, according to police. Charges against the suspect include first-degree assault and felony menacing. Police are continuing an investigation of the incident."

That's the kind of thing no parent wants to read and it raises immediate questions about the level of safety in our schools.

Fortunately, Craig Middle School Principal Steve Wiersma is the kind of educator who understands that parents need to know what happened. He didn't duck questions or provide evasive answers about the incident.

Wiersma said the incident occurred in a locker room and that he wouldn't characterize it as a brutal assault. Citing the confidentiality of students, he declined to go into specifics, but broadly outlined the assault, saying he didn't think the student's intentions were sinister. Although his job is partly disciplinarian and he has to decide the possible punishment, Wiersma said it was not appropriate for him to express his views and judgements publicly.

The student was not arrested.

Wiersma said his No. 1 job is ensuring the safety of students and even though the incident may not have been committed with the deliberate intent to inflict harm, the fact that it occurred means the school has to remain vigilant.

Wiersma took the right approach.

The wrong thing would have been to stay tight-lipped and hope things would just blow over or blame the media for blowing something out of proportion.

Nothing breeds fear like lack of information and silence from the school would likely have triggered a groundswell of speculation.

Police Chief Walt Vanatta provided as much information as he could. But the matter is still under investigation. Of course, since juveniles are involved, the victim and the perpatrator will remain nameless.

That's as much as we know right now. But it's better than hearing, "no comment."

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