I am getting ready to fly home after working with two small public school districts in Maine this week. We have been conducting school safety, security, climate, culture and emergency preparedness assessments for both districts and they are both very high quality school systems with excellent climate and culture. The biggest advantage from a school safety standpoint is that the schools are in low-crime communities in Maine and have inherently lower risks for violence than many school districts. The biggest challenge they both face is that they are both in low-crime communities in Maine so it is harder to get parents, students and staff to understand that there is some risk of violence in any school no matter how peaceful the community is. This can make it difficult to obtain buy in from the community and from staff for appropriate security measures.
We have had much discussion about how to achieve this balance in both districts and my parting thoughts with one of the superintendents yesterday afternoon was that these challenges are much easier to address than a dysfunctional community where behaviors that should shock and alarm us can sometimes become commonplace. For example, there are too many communities where a shootout between rival gang members is not an earth-shattering event.
When I turned on my laptop this morning, I noticed that one of the top stories in the national news was the cancellation of an Easter egg hunt in Central City Park in Macon, Georgia. According to the Macon Telegraph, “event organizers in Macon, Ga., forced to cancel this week amid fears greedy moms and dads would become violent and trample on kids to grab eggs.”
The article went on to say that Joe Allen, who is a former Macon/Bibb County Fire Fighter, elected official and the founder of the Kids Yule Love which organizes the Central City Park egg hunt, said previous bad behavior meant this year’s event had become a liability because “parents caused a situation in which some children got hurt.”
I served as the Chief of School Police in Macon for ten years. I know Joe Allen from my interaction with him as a county commissioner and from the many times that my school district police officers volunteered to help Joe and his staff package donated toys for children who lived in poverty. I also know that tomorrow will be a very sad day for Joe. Simply put, this must be breaking Joe’s heart.
Joe pointed out the need to cancel the event because as stated in the Macon Telegraph, “a woman was hurt and several kids were trampled on at previous hunts as aggressive parents tried to get more eggs for themselves or their children”.
The challenges my school district faced and still faces today are considerable in contrast to many school districts around the nation due to the unusually high levels of interpersonal violence in the community. Societal norms there are a dramatically different from the two communities i worked with here in Maine this week. As I get ready to fly home, I am enjoying a drive on the coast for a few hours and it will be nice to not have to worry too much about being car jacked. While anything is possible, it is pretty unlikely that I will find myself staring down the barrel of a handgun in my travels today, and it I probably won’t get cursed out by a store clerk with a short temper. And that is the way it is supposed to be in Maine and the way it should still be in Macon.
I’ll take on the challenge of educating and informing people who underestimate their actual level of risk over fixing a broken community any day.
“When people get hurt, they want some kind of compensation,” Allen added.
It is not the first Easter egg hunt canceled because of pushy parents in the past month.
Another free annual event held in Colorado Springs, Colo., was canceled in March because “aggressive” parents previously snatched too many eggs for their children.