Editorial: MSS legacy so much more than a fight

Editor’s Note: This editorial was published on the front page of the Manitoulin Expositor today, Wednesday, September 19, 2018. It appeared beside the story related to the incidents that took place at Manitoulin Secondary School last Friday, September 14, 2018. 

Fifty years ago from this moment, the groundwork was being laid for the new school that would open in one year’s time, Manitoulin Secondary School. In a year’s time, our MSS will be celebrating 50 years of secondary school education for Manitoulin Island, a tradition that began in September, 1969.

As the old local school boards were amalgamated into one Island-wide board as part of the centralizing process, the new school in the planning stages 50 years ago was being hailed as a model “integrated school” where the young people from Manitoulin’s two cultures would all learn together.

And so it has been.

This past week saw an unfortunate incident take place at Manitoulin Secondary School that could shake any progress toward unity between communities that the school was originally intended to forge.

While the pundits of social media were quick to spin the incident as racially motivated, there is little evidence from what has so far been revealed that this is in fact the case. It seems to have originated in some less than ideal interactions that took place between a female and a male student that quickly spiralled out of control and degenerated into a series of scuffles in which some students took sides, some students attempted to intervene and separate the combatants resulting in a number of assaults and physical altercations.

Regardless of the personal issues from which these incidents sprang, and of course the quite natural concerns of parents for the safety of the students attending the school, it is the reactions within the wider community that should actually concern us all the most.

Social media quickly upped the ante on the situation by repeating rumours that shots had been fired at the school (apparently there were firecrackers involved at some point)—and none of this did anything to aid the situation. The social media contagion quickly spread to neighbouring Espanola, and the Espanola police feel the MSS incident led to a secure and hold order at Espanola schools. (The Espanola incident stemmed from a threat issued against the school anonymously.)

Schoolyard fights are hardly anything new under the sun, and Friday’s fight, like most such altercations between students, apparently originally took place outside MSS. But the fact the violence spread so quickly to so many young people, and that such incidents took place over a short period of time at all, points clearly to tensions that are in place and need to be resolved within the school community.

None of these issues will be resolved through reactionary social media posts—put simply, you aren’t helping people if you communicate possibly inflammatory opinions to the general public.

Manitoulin Island has largely been something of a poster child for reconciliation and good relations between communities. This is something that many Islanders, particularly those of previous generations, have taken great pride in. Not perfect, to be sure, but certainly there are a great many bonds and friendships that have been formed on the ice and playing fields, in the classrooms and in the playgrounds on this Island. Many older Native and non-Native parents look upon the current situation that has unfolded with horrified disbelief—and well they should. This is not who we want to be. This is not who we want our children to be.

The original slight that engendered this latest outburst of violence will pass from the memories of those not directly involved relatively quickly. But these incidents should be taken for what they are, a canary in the coal mine that we must not ignore or bury away as something too unpleasant to examine.

In a year’s time, we’ll be celebrating a half century of MSS as Manitoulin’s central school.

It’s important that Friday’s incident not be seen to mar what has been a generally successful educational experience.

As parents, we must be careful of what we say to our children. As parents, we must be vigilant about what our children are saying about others.

We know how to behave civilly. It’s common sense and Friday’s response to a boy-girl squabble by an initially small cadre of students was anything but common sense.

As a community of concerned parents, caregivers and teachers we must come together to heal the rifts that are clearly developing and to find a way to remove the stresses that can cause such outbreaks to occur. Nothing will be gained by taking one side or another. There is only one side, that is the side that cares about all of our children, their safety, their mental health and their education.

We must set aside any blame or retribution, leaving it in the hands of the courts, both legal and academic, to deal with offences such as assault or breaches of conduct. Instead of hurling epitaphs or insults, we must reach out to each other to find solutions and reconciliation to the underlying causes of the behaviours and retake the noble aspirations of our school.

Manitoulin Secondary School is an institution that we all can justifiably take pride in. Let us not let a handful of reactionary social media posts derail us from the path of unity originally set out by the founders of MSS, for at the end of the day, we are all Mustangs.