Information is there for those who want to be informed

Opinion

Sometimes, and I’ve written this before, it’s tough to throw an opinion out there for readers to consume. There are times when you can write from an emotional, but safe place. when your memories are put on display and you kind of open yourself up through your words for others’ observation and consideration.

But there are also times when I find myself disappointed in those that live, shop, play, and volunteer around me.

This week was one of those times. And writing about that disappointment opens me up to ridicule or the “who does this guy think he is?” comments. Then I remember that, traditionally, news outlets had a responsibility to write about things that others were just talking about….or worse…not talking about. So is the case this week.

Earlier this year, the town was struck with the tragedy and reality of one of our youngsters trying to take their own life because of the pressure being put on them by other kids in the community. We can call it bullying, although I think bullying has been present, literally, since we invented fire. It’s just in a fishbowl right now because of the progression of social media.

When that event happened, we watched the social media traffic of Pen City Current, as well as other traffic of our personal accounts. Most of the blame was laid squarely on the doormat of the Fort Madison Community School District. There were not enough eyes and ears on the institution and hundreds and hundreds of people took to social media to express their concern and heartbreak for this family.

Behind the scenes, the district had already been taking steps to help students deal with the volatility of the behavior of our students and, honestly, parents, towards one another within the reach of the district.

Four school officials had attended a National School Safety Conference with the goal of finding answers that would specifically address those concerns and they came back with a program that probably is as good of an investment (at a mere $2,200 per year for the entire district) in our students’ protection as they could find.

It was reported in several media outlets, including our own, that the new reporting app and online reporting system was very soon coming online. But the district wanted to hold meetings with the school, the students, and the community to roll out the program correctly and bring everyone into the program prior to it going live on Nov. 20.

So FMHS Assistant Principal Pat Lamb sent out alerts on the FMHS Power system, which includes voicemail and texts, to all parents registered in the district to let them know of two meetings being held on Tuesday and Wednesday of this past week.

A grand total of three (3) parents showed up for those meetings. Three.

It’s an assumption to be sure, but it would seem that people aren’t really deeply interested in solving the problems that face our children, and our students. I don’t buy at all that they didn’t know about it. If a parent or family in the district honestly says they weren’t aware of the meetings, it would beg the question. How could you not?

It was reported in several media outlets. The school alerted every parent via text and voicemail. If you didn’t get that information, it’s really alarming that we aren’t paying attention to alerts coming from the district and we’re only reacting to tragedy when it unfolds. So…we all want to throw daggers but no one wants to help prevent the war.

PCC did another story after the first meeting on the inner workings of the program. It’s called P3 Campus. In a nutshell, to provide this information for at least the sixth time, it is a totally anonymous reporting system that students, parents, and families can take advantage of to help stave off potentially tragic occurrences. You can download the app for your phone or tablet or you can use the online reporting information. Those using the system can opt out of the anonymity if they choose, but you have to manually check a box or the system will automatically scrub any identifying characteristics of the person posting the information. There is also a 20+ member threat assessment team that reviews the programs and issues on a regular basis.

It takes away all the downside of reporting and removes any possibility of retribution. It eliminates the possibility of someone using a copied Facebook page from reporting under someone else’s name. This is probably the biggest weapon the district could employ to help fight for students and families.

In addition to the several school board meetings where the new program was discussed, there were also several community meetings and church groups that went to work on the problem. I didn’t see any of these people at these meetings, but I’ve continued to read posts from families that are concerned about the “meanness” of children in the district or the dangers of social media. So where were you?

The only salvation to me is that you have all the information you need and you’re ready to roll. If that’s the case, let’s hope this weapon is as powerful as it can be and our students are, effective Nov. 20, as safe as they can be.

And to piggy back on the issue, there is also the concern that some people aren’t reacting to the FMHS alert system. This school district has made a priority of keeping the community informed of progress and issues facing the district. There are two media sources in town where people can get information in addition to the alert system.

What more do you need? These officials can’t go to each house with cheese and crackers and have a conversation with every district taxpayer about what is going on in the district. And neither can your elected city officials. Bob Morawitz unseated Brian Wright for the 2nd Ward City Council seat in 2018. That night during an post-election interview Morawitz said one of his top priorities is improving communication between the city and its residents. I asked him how he intended to do that, when city agendas are posted, media will certainly do articles on the meetings and regularly do previews when important issues are in front of the council.

When does getting informed become their responsibility? You don’t get out of a speeding ticket because you didn’t know the speed limit. Why? Because it was posted. It’s your responsibility to be informed about that information and its consequences. With two local media covering, and several regional reporters in attendance, at city meetings (not necessarily school board) and most meetings being available on the respective government’s websites, how can you say you didn’t know?

We’re all busy, that’s just the way life is. But being uninformed is the same choice as being informed. It’s up to you. We’ll continue to do all we can to keep you informed but you have to expose yourself to the information. It’s not the school district’s or city council’s or Lee County Board of Supervisors’ job to make sure you’re informed. They have legal responsibilities to post information and I’m not aware of any infringement upon those rules.

So we’re putting the information out there in all forms for you. You just have to come and get it.

In the sake of providing additional information, just a reminder that the city did approve an agreement with Amtrak and BNSF to build a platform at the historic depot and move passenger service to the downtown riverfront area. This a nice testament to the conviction of Mayor Brad Randolph and his commitment to then-Mayor Steve Ireland before his death to see the project through. It’s not likely to be a economic boost to downtown business right away, but the potential is there with many working to create an arts district downtown and adding another feather to our riverfront appeal.

But that’s Beside the Point.

About Chuck Vandenberg 5257 Articles
Pen City Current and pencitycurrent.com are products of Market Street Publishing, LLC, a multi-platform media company delivering hyper-local news, sports and advertising information to Fort Madison, IA and surrounding communities.

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