The first week of school this year was especially challenging for the staff and students at Frank J. Mitchell Elementary School in Sparwood. The second day of classes began with news that a three-year-old boy had gone missing from his bed in the middle of the night. Soon afterward, the community became aware that Kienan Hebert had likely been abducted.
At that point, a community that had been desperately searching for one little boy became afraid for the safety of all its young children. Parents didn’t know exactly what they might be up against or what to expect. The staff at FJMES responded immediately by enacting a “soft lockdown” to ensure that all students would be safe, and to give parents confidence in sending their children to school.
The students could not remain immune to the fear and distress that was gripping their homes and community. Their routines and usual outdoor play were restricted in this time when police, military, and hundreds of volunteers were scouring their town and the forest nearby. At school the students encountered doors locked against outsiders and some restrictions on their usual activities. Naturally the children were somewhat stressed.
Recognizing their students’ increased need to play safely outdoors, the whole staff, rather than the usual few, supervised recess break, despite the fact that recess at all SD5 schools had been cancelled by the district. Then the staff gave up their lunch break in shifts to provide maximum protection to half the students going outdoors at a time. The teachers, who were anxious parents and community members themselves, all wanted to do their part to help.
The teachers had begun the year in job action to protest sluggish bargaining talks by withdrawing a number of routine duties, including supervision. Yet they unanimously and immediately abandoned this and went beyond even their usual duties to protect their students.
Now the immediate crisis has passed, Kienan has been returned, and the alleged kidnapper has been caught. So the teachers have returned to their job action, some aspects of which may prove annoying to parents, but students and parents will have no doubt that the safety and well-being of the community’s children comes first with its teachers.