It’s certainly understandable that city police, the Essex County District Attorney’s Office and the Gloucester Public Schools are all proceeding with extreme caution in their investigation into some type of incident and the level of supervision involving the after-school program at West Parish Elementary School.
Indeed, from the comments of Police Chief Leonard Campanello and Superintendent of Schools Richard Safier make it fairly clear that whatever incident that triggered calls around the region’s law enforcement network — from the DA’s office and state’s Department of Children and Families to the Gloucester Police Department itself — did not involve any adults, and thus likely youths who are not merely juveniles, but by the definitions of the program’s West Parish enrollment, children in the fifth grade or lower or perhaps 12 years old at most. So it is important to protect their names and perhaps even many of the details.
Yet the abrupt shutting down of an entire program that has served some 82 children and 60 families with virtually no advance notification is a serious action on the past of the school district, and poses a significant and likely costly inconvenience to the families involved. While no one certainly wants to jeopardize an ongoing investigation, the fact is that those parents are ultimately owed some explanation as to what occurred — and the idea that schools simply know best and everyone should go his or her merry way into a new YMCA-run program at the school isn’t going to cut it.
Police Chief Leonard Campanello noted that there is not yet any sign anything “criminal” occurred, adding that if that does prove the case, it will change the focus of the investigation. That’s encouraging, to say the least. But once the police probe — again, being carried out in conjunction with the DA’s office and the state’s DCF – is complete, he and other officials owe parents some explanation as to what specific supervisory or safety issues forced such an abrupt reaction and shutdown.
These parents deserve more than vague answers.