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Crossfield residents voice concerns at community debrief following RVS staff arrest

Concerned residents gathered at the Crossfield Community Centre on June 6 for discussion following the arrest of an RVS teaching assistant.
Concerned residents gathered at the Crossfield Community Centre on June 6 for a community debrief in light of recent RVS staff arrest.

Crossfield residents gathered at the community hall on June 6 to speak about their concerns regarding the arrest of a W. G. Murdoch employee on child pornography, sexual Interference and making child pornography charges.

Thijs Gordon Vogelzang (43), a learning assistant at the school, was arrested on May 29. Vogelzang worked for Rocky View Schools for two years. Before working in Crossfield, Vogelzang worked for a year at W.H. Croxford in Airdrie.

The Rocky View Weekly has since clarified that a court ordered publication ban regarding the case imposed in Airdrie court on May 30 does allow Vogelzang and his place of employment to be named, but no details which would identify the alleged victim.

In light of these recent events, the Airdrie and District Victims Assistance Society (ADVAS) hosted a community debrief to provide a time of discussion and support for concerned residents on June 6.  

ADVAS is a non-profit crisis response and support network in partnership with the RCMP according to ADVAS executive director Deborah Reid, and she began the discussion by disclaiming that the focus of the meeting was to remain on the concerns of the community. 

“We felt that the community needed a debrief at this time, and we are here to be your resource, but we (ADVAS) are not the police," she said. "We are civilians who want to help.” 

Tara Theed, ADVAS judicial program manager, followed up after Reid and stated that she is staying up to date with the specific case, but cautioned residents that the court process will be a long road until a final decision. 

The debrief opened up into a questions and answers session following the ADVAS administration introductions. 

A concerned parent began by asking, “What are we going to do to return to some semblance of normalcy through a very traumatic time?” 

Reid replied by explaining that the community of Crossfield has already come together in many ways as a united front during recent events, and, she added, that continual communication with children and families is extremely important to moving forward.

Reid also cautioned residents to not allow recent events to control their world and mind, but another concerned parent argued that the town of Crossfield is far too small to not allow trauma to spread.

The same concerned parent continued by expressing her disdain for Rocky View Schools (RVS) administration for allowing these traumatic events to transpire. 

“We have trusted you to look after our children, and I want to know why you failed us?” she asked. 

RVS Superintendent of schools, Greg Luterbach, who was also present on June 6, responded by saying his administration had not known about the issue until the arrest at W.G. Murdoch High School. He assured residents that a staff member would not be allowed to remain employed while under investigation, and the details of the investigation were unknown to RVS until after his arrest.  

Airdrie RCMP operations manager Chris Anafee then explained that investigations need time to ensure that special teams such as tech units have enough evidence to make an informed decision. He expressed sympathy for what the residents have been going through.

Another concerned parent asked Anafee if it would be possible to “flag” an individual during investigation, but the Airdrie officer said the investigation did not have the grounds for legal action until the arrest on May 29. 

Concerns about the handling of communication among children were also raised during the meeting. 

“I understand that there was a policy of silence following the arrest at school, but what we know from psychology is that silence just compounds trauma,” said a concerned parent. “How do we change policy when children are the victims?” 

RVS associate superintendent of human resources, Laurie Copeland, stated that the teachers simply felt that the situation around the case was unknown, and made a personal decision that day to move on with instruction. Copeland also said that six mental health support individuals were available for students and staff at school on May 30. 

However, many parents argued that the information for the crisis teams available was poorly communicated to children by administrators. From the understanding of some parents, children were asked to take their concerns to adults away from public view as well. 

“That is far too much to ask of a 10-year-old to band together with his buddies to go talk to a teacher about something beyond their understanding,” said the parent. 

Copeland agreed that children should require clearer communication, and, in her opinion, RVS administration has a difficulty there with communication that must be solved. 

Nearing the end of discussion, another concerned citizen asked Copeland and Luterbach if there was a lesson to be learned from the situation. 

Copeland explained that human resources matters are confidential, but she felt that the vast majority of RVS teachers have an immense love for the children that walk through their classroom doors every day. With over 3,500 staff members, it is difficult to always monitor personal activity, but Copeland has trust for the teachers. 

Luterbach said that RVS is committed to building back the trust of Crossfield piece by piece, and he feels that the debrief provided administration with a strong foundation to begin that process in the near future. 

“(This crisis) is a total kick in the gut for us,” said Luterbach. 

If you or anybody you know is going through a crisis, please contact ADVAS at 403-945-7290.

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