Fighting Ire with Fire?

Robo calls are now one of the primary ways that the Boston Public Schools communicate with parents. Liz an the PI didn’t like it at first, but it is actually a good way to share information quickly about school events, school closings, etc.

But on today’s call from the nation’s oldest public school, the Headmaster’s voice had a special edge to it. She was calling to let parents know that, for the second consecutive day, someone had set a small fire in the school. The edge seemed like an exhausted and angry one, and who could blame the Head? There had been no injuries and minimal damage to the property, but “learning was interrupted.” Liz and the PI were happy to receive the call. They had not heard a thing about the first fire. This sort of thing is not supposed to happen at a place like BLS. Other schools in other countries, maybe, but not the school that takes only Boston’s “best and brightest.” What is the cause of fires at Boston Latin School?

According to the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), as of 2001 there were about 5500 school fires annually in the United States. Of these, 62% were arson fires. In high schools, 70% of fires were set. The fires set at BLS were, therefore, typical. School fires cause relatively few fatalities, but, on average, cause more injuries than other fires and the result in about $50 million in property damage each year.

According to Vince, tutoring and all other after school activities were cancelled, EXCEPT for sports activities. BLS swept the freshman, junior varsity and varsity basketball teams from Weston High School with the slightest scent of burnt plastic wafting through the gym.

After the game, the Parent Imperfect had the pleasure of driving four ninth graders, including Vince, to their homes. The fires definitely outdistanced the basketball games as the primary topic of conversation. Everyone had a theory, based on their own idea of why someone would do such a thing. All were hoping that the problem might somehow result in a school cancellation, even though they realized that they’d be making up the time in June.

The fact that the school distributed report cards today seemed like just too much of a coincidence, but they wanted desperately to believe that someone not currently associated with the school could have gotten in through a side door and set the fires. The PI cautioned all of them about saying goofy things about this, even as jokes. People have gotten in very serious trouble for much less.

The bravado and adolescent jokes barely concealed a layer of concern about how someone (or some people) could have done this TWICE in an environment as locked down as BLS. One of the fires apparently happened very near an electrical closet, which could have caused massive damage had it ignited.

The Headmaster assured all parents that the Boston Police will be at the school tomorrow, helping the school administration with their investigation. Would that this announcement make the PI feel better about the whole thing. He might feel better if this was just another student prank, but whoever took the risk to start these fires was probably feeling pretty angry at the school and pretty hopeless about doing anything about that anger. Their choice didn’t just interrupt education; It endangered the 2500 people who were somewhere in the school at the time.

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