On more than one occasion, I've had someone in the community ask me why we "buried" a particular story on an inside page of The Sentinel. Their typical complaint is they believe no one reads anything that doesn't appear on the front page.
Well, I'm here to tell you a situation occurred this week that proves that theory wrong.
In Wednesday's edition we ran a short article about a delayed dismissal Tuesday afternoon at East Derry Elementary School in Mifflin County, due to police activity that was occurring along a route traveled by some of the buses from that school. The article ran in the upper left corner on page A8.
According to an email I received Wednesday from Mifflin County School District Superintendent James Estep, our use of the word "lockdown" in that article created quite a stir among some of the parents whose children attend East Derry, and no shortage of heartburn for Mr. Terry Styers, the principal of the school.
Mr. Estep explains in his email that the school was never in a state of "lockdown," and that only two school buses were delayed for about 30-35 minutes until the police had successfully handled the situation occurring along or near the bus route a few miles away in Shindle.
We first became aware of the situation by way of posts made on Facebook as it was still going on, and we imagine this is how many parents and other area residents first became aware of it, too. Naturally, we started making phone calls to find out what was going on.
We spoke with two law enforcement officials who happened to use the word "lockdown" to describe the situation at East Derry. Keep in mind this was while the situation was still ongoing. At the same time, Mr. Styers was fielding multiple phone calls from concerned parents, assuring them that the entire school was not in "lockdown," that only a couple of buses were being held at the school until they received an all-clear from the police.
Once the situation was resolved, the officers at the scene were not available to offer further details, so we obtained our additional information for the article from another law enforcement official who had knowledge of the situation. At that point, we were thinking of "lockdown" and "delayed dismissal due to police activity" as being more or less synonymous, given the circumstances, so the word "lockdown" was left in the final version of the article that made it onto the page for Wednesday's edition.
We did not foresee that the technical difference between "lockdown" and "delayed dismissal" would become a cause of major upset for the parents of East Derry students. So much, in fact, that Mr. Styers spent most of his day Wednesday on the phone responding to a multitude of unfair accusations. I think the email I received from Mr. Estep describes it best:
"Terry (Styers) spent much of the time that the delay occurred talking on the phone with concerned parents reassuring them that we weren't in a lockdown and that their children were safe. This morning (Wednesday), those same parents read the paper and/or heard the radio stating that we were in lockdown, which leads them to believe that Terry misled them yesterday ... when in fact, he didn't mislead them at all."
So, now that I've laid out the background story, here's my point:
1. Mr. Styers didn't mislead anyone. Give the man a break, his job is hard enough.
2. I'm the managing editor of the newspaper, and I'm the one who ultimately left the word "lockdown" in the article that ran Wednesday. If my decision to use that word created difficulty for some members of our community, please feel free to contact me - my email address appears below.
3. For all the people who gave Mr. Styers unnecessary grief on Wednesday, did it occur to you to maybe thank the man for keeping our children safe and making himself available to answer your calls of concern Tuesday afternoon? For that matter, did anyone take the time to thank the police for having the presence of mind to notify the school about the incident a few miles away before those two buses were already on their way? Or are we all once again just taking them for granted, wanting only to speak to them if we can give them a piece of our mind?
Events in our community clearly show that we are not always going to agree with the decisions made by school officials, the police, or any other person in a position of authority. But I can't help but think that our community would be better served if we spent more time thanking them for the job they do instead of constantly seeking ways to make them the object of our criticism.
Frank Jost is the managing editor for The Sentinel. He can be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.