Early Wednesday morning, I was contacted by a Lancaster Online staff reporter regarding Octorara’s recent raccoon incident. The news organization had received a call from a citizen, concerned about how the whole episode unfolded. Lancaster Online found the controversy to be newsworthy, and went to look deeper into what happened.
Read their article here: Octorara parents upset they weren’t told district security officer shot, killed raccoon on campus
Have you ever heard the saying, “It is not the crime, it is the coverup”? Well, I think that all perfectly encapsulates this situation. Another Board Member is quoted as saying, “I think that Dr. Newcome acted very appropriately in not notifying so as to keep it from becoming more of an issue than it really is.” This is exactly why open records and transparency laws exist. Government agencies should not withhold information because they fear a negative public reaction.
This week, I attended the CCIU Board of Directors Meeting. Talking about a different subject, an official from another district stated, “The best policy is to share bad news, and share it often.” The public does not trust officials when they believe they are not being completely upfront and straightforward. Making information open and easily accessible goes a long way. Democracy relies on a government that is transparent, participatory, and collaborative. Don’t you agree?
All that said, Lancaster Online interviewed Dr. Newcome, three Board Members, the security officer, Pete Mango (the local Signal 88 franchise owner), and the Chester County Health Department. There was an attempt to contact the West Fallowfield Police Department, but they could not be reached. As with other conversations, others seemed much more focused on talking about the “how”, as in how the raccoon was killed and if it was procedurally correct. Of course, my focus is on the “why”… as in, “Why were the parents not notified,” and “Why did the incident happen at all?”
Emerging from the reporting is a third variation of the incident. Initially, Board Directors were told about a raccoon seen “acting strangely” with no description of the animal behaving in a threatening manner. When the happening was brought up at a Committee Meeting, the story was that the raccoon had confronted a teacher, was acting aggressively, was foaming at the mouth, was hissing, did have matted fur, and was standing its ground. The column provided a third, less dramatic interpretation, and that “the raccoon came close to humans, possibly was foaming at the mouth and not walking at a normal gait.”
Moreover, apparently, Signal 88 took an incident with a gun far more seriously than District officials. Kudos to them. The article revealed that the security officer did file written reports with both West Fallowfield Police Department and Signal 88. Neither of these reports were provided to the Board. I have reached out to Dr. Newcome to find out if copies are on file with the District. If they are not, why not? A written report would have been much more valuable than receiving the information second hand from Dr. Newcome. Does that make sense to you?
Ultimately, from the District, we have the conflating of two completely separate issues. The first question is whether or not the security guard and Signal 88 did what they were asked in an appropriate and professional manner. From all accounts, they did. The security guard was assigned a task; he completed the task, and then properly and appropriately reported the use of a firearm. The second question is the real problem. Did the District intentionally decide not to reveal information for the purpose of avoiding controversy? I think how this has unfolded speaks for itself.
Updated 4/20/17 @ 5:18 p.m.
As noted in my original blog entry, I did ask for a copy of the security officer’s written report. I did receive that information, and it includes yet another version of the incident. Since this is a first-hand account, I am going to presume this is the most correct and accurate version of what really happened. However, I am going to have to speak with Dr. Newcome, and then possibly other Board Members, before considering publishing the report here. In the meantime, those interested can file a Right to Know request with the DIstirct.