It’s unusual for me to drive past my daughter’s school on the weekend. Doing the Monday to Friday drop off is often enough.
But this weekend I found myself on Saturday morning parked outside the school gates, staring blankly at brick buildings. I could see classrooms, with windows decorated in children’s paintings. There was the school hall, the same one where we were taken two years prior to tour the facilities.
I could see the kindy area and I could see the playground for the big kids. It was just the same as every primary school on a Saturday, devoid of laughter, devoid of children. But still I sat there, staring.
My eye caught the toilet block. I had to look away. Because here I was, assessing what is now a crime scene, wondering if a school can promise me that my daughter will be safe when she is not with me.
Like most people, I was rocked to the core when last week I read about the unspeakable horror of a six-year-old girl who was allegedly raped at school by two 12-year-old boys. The details were sketchy but the news reported that the school in question was located on the Northern Beaches in Sydney. My heart sank. That’s where I live.
As soon as the news broke I was scouring the local ‘mummy pages’ for information. They are usually the first in the know. I needed to know that it wasn’t as close to home as I feared.
There was speculation, there were rumours and eventually, there was a message from admin indicating that out of respect for those involved, no further information would be posted.
I told myself that there are lots of schools in our area, not that it makes the situation any different, but like any parent, the facts of the case were so disturbing that I wanted to be as far away from it as possible. I didn't want the kids in question to be the same ones my child sat with in classes, the same ones dressed in identical uniforms to the one I put her in each day.
Later, my fears were confirmed. The incident happened at our school. The victim was only three years younger than my daughter.
That night my husband and I sat up and spoke for hours. How could this happen? Where was the supervision? It's a large school, does this mean that we can no longer feel that our daughter is safe when we drop her off? Could we be assured that there were enough teachers to keep our babies safe?
Our minds went around and around and for a long time we sat in silence. We questioned the kids who did this unspeakable thing, our hearts bled for the parents on both sides. And selfishly we thought of ourselves.
The uniform that my daughter wears is painful to look at. It was hanging in the living room ready for the upcoming week. What was once a symbol of her childhood was now tainted. We discussed our options of other schools and we agreed to sleep on it.
The next morning we woke, fresh eyes but heavy hearts.
By all accounts the school in question cannot be blamed for this horror. In fact, I have no doubt that teachers associated with these kids are going through indescribable trauma of their own.
It's an easy response, to withdraw your child in a situation, but the fact is that now our daughter is probably safer than she was before. It's easy to judge a school on the way it teaches science, maths and English, the approach to bullying, the no hat no play policy. These things are concrete.
But we must also judge a school by the way it handles itself in the face of a crisis and from early information, I can only feel secure that the school in question has done everything it could have to deal with what is really a situation that no school, or educator, should ever have to handle.
Questions still surround the events and how they managed to occur but I have no doubt that the school will now enforce policies to ensure that nothing like this ever happens again on those grounds.