Five months after Riverton Elementary School was evacuated, no one knows for a certainty why students and teachers were occasionally sickened in the school.
The most "plausible" explanations are that a childhood virus - fifth disease - caused the rashes that prompted the evacuation on Feb. 24. Chronic problems could be linked to sewer gases in the school. However, only minuscule levels of the gas have been detected by instruments. Arguably, some people are more sensitive than others.One truth rings clear in the Riv-er-ton Elementary School debacle. A lot of people made a lot of little mistakes en route to Feb. 24. With each mis-step, it was as if another log was added to a smoldering fire. Then came the highly publicized rashes and the evacuation of the school. That was akin to throwing gasoline onto the flames.
As a mother of child who attends a public school, I can appreciate the frustrations of the Riverton Elementary School parents. We expect our neighborhood schools will be safe places to learn. When we suspect our child's safety might be compromised, we come out swinging. It's our duty as parents.
But it's also a parent's responsibility to handle disagreements in a civil manner. That doesn't mean shouting down school officials at meetings or making irresponsible statements to the news media. We'd expect better conduct from our children.
School officials share in the blame. Their offense was allowing a wound to fester. Parents felt their concerns were not being addressed. Teachers perceived their complaints were being dismissed as being "all in their heads." Principals don't like to air school problems in a broader public for fear it appears they don't have control of their schools.
Too often, complaints are dismissed with a pat on the head.
When that happens, parents take their complaints elsewhere, most often, the media.
Usually, one reporter takes the bait and the others follow. In doing so, each pours gasoline on the fire. We, too, own some responsibility for this uproar.
Turf issues surfaced during the debacle. Cities, counties and school districts are each independent political subdivisions. Conflicts arise when jurisdictions overlap. At times, no one seems to know who is in charge or who is responsible.
Some disgruntled patrons took their concerns to the state Capitol. I believe their concern was heartfelt, but I'm convinced local issues are best handled close to home.
In the midst of chaos, a parent advisory committee and key administrators - chiefly Superintendent Barry Newbold - attempted to get a handle on the problems.
Instead of pointing fingers, Leon Berrett went about fixing problems by leading the Riverton parent advisory committee.
At times, it was a thankless task. Like the time a parent - in the middle of a press conference, no less - impugned the integrity of the volunteer committee.
Berrett replied, calmly: "Judge us by our results."
These are the results: a repaired and modified sewage system; 24-hour air quality monitoring, a new evacuation plan and a flow chart that spells out who is in charge in an emergency.
Most importantly, a school community group will be formed to keep the lines of communication open. This crisis may have been averted if people had simply talked out their concerns in a sensitive and respectful manner.
With the physical changes made at Riverton Elementary School, it ought to be the safest school in the state. It is now time to make it one of the most civil.