Like all parents, Nadine Remington wants to know her nine-year-old son is safe while on school property.
But, the increasing problem of drug use on school property after hours is heightening fears for her and other parents.
Earlier this week, Remington was told by her son who is in Grade 4 at Queen’s Park School that people were living in a shed on the school’s property and that he had seen a needle and matches nearby.
After a similar experience of the boy finding drug paraphernalia at KVR Middle School while at camp this summer, she took his claims seriously and headed out to the school to see it herself. Remington and her husband didn’t find anyone in the shed, but there was evidence suggesting someone was living in it recently and a needle on the ground at the door.
“There was stuff everywhere. There were needles in there. There were candles. There was garbage. It was handy because there are gym matts in there, so they had a nice soft place to sleep. It looked like they were living in there for quite some time,” she said during a phone interview Wednesday.
Remington said she contacted the school who told her although the shed was on school property it was being rented out. She contacted the group said to be renting it, but was told she should contact the school board because it was their property. She said she contacted police who said they couldn’t help her get it cleaned up. She was advised to call bylaw but she thought that would be a waste of time.
While Remington continued to go through channels, another parent posted pictures of the shed in a Facebook group on Wednesday. Someone on staff at School Board 67 (Okangan Skaha) also saw the pictures and staff jumped into action. The board immediately sent a crew to the school to clean up the shed and made plans to have it removed.
“I’m happy the school board acted right away. It’s the fact that I had to go through all that and what if a child was stuck with a needle during this,” Remington said.
She went through a similar experience this summer when her son was at a camp at KVR Middle School.
“He said there was some bad stuff at the school. There were kits to cook up heroin. There were tourniquets, no needles there. Someone had went and cleaned it up by the time we heard about it.
“It’s frustrating. We already have to watch when they’re playing in the park … My son comes home and says there’s lighters and needles and matches at the school. No nine-year-old needs to know about this,” she said.
Wendy Hyer, superintendent for the school board, said she is aware there are problems with people using illicit drugs after hours on several school properties in Penticton. She said the board has identified KVR, Pen High and Queen’s Park as hot spots for finding drug paraphernalia.
For some time, principals and custodians have been tasked with doing sweeps of all school properties.If they find something, staff has been trained to dispose of material appropriately. Students have also been educated on what to do if they find drug paraphernalia, she said.
In the issue of the shed at Queen’s Park, she noted that it’s location on the property often confuses staff as to whether it is actually on school property and that it must have been missed in the walk arounds.
“The shed is going to be removed. As soon as we knew about it (at the board) we acted on it. Safety is our main priority,” she said.
Hyer said the school board has asked the police to do additional patrols around KVR, Pen High and Queen’s Park especially after hours in hopes of deterring people from taking part in drug use on school grounds. She said at this point she was not aware if additional patrols were being done and said she understand that police resources are tight.
“We want schools to be safe but we also need to be supporting folks who have mental health and substance abuse problems. It’s not about moving the problem. It’s about figuring out some effective ways of supporting folks and helping with the problem. It takes a community to do that.”
Several calls to a Penticton RCMP spokesperson were not returned by the time this article was published.