Students need a 'sense of ownership' when it comes to school safety
Threats, acts of violence in northern Ontario schools hit a peak this week
School violence is top of mind for many in northern Ontario this week.
A 13-year-old in North Bay is facing weapons and assault charges after flashing a knife at school. Sudbury police are investigating a note that was found in the the hallway at Lockerby Composite School that said, 'there will be a shooting at school tomorrow:'
- 'There will be a shooting at school tomorrow:' Sudbury police investigate Lockerby Composite threat
- North Bay teen charged after flashing knife at teachers
But threats of violence don't hit home for some students right away.
"I thought it was a joke at first because we're in Canada, and you don't really hear about those kinds of things," says Cassandra Guillot, a Grade 11 student from Lockerby Composite School. But then I saw the cops and I knew it was real."
'Your words are powerful'
Cst. Hally Willmott is a school resource officer with the Greater Sudbury Police and visited Lockerby Composite School the day the note was found. Part of her job is to forge relationships with students and speak to them about things like school safety.
Willmott says it depends on which student you talk to, but many don't take threats seriously. One of the key points she tries to get across when speaking to classes about safety is that language should always be taken seriously.
"Things 20 or 30 years ago that people would take as a joke aren't a joke now," Willmot says. "Your words are powerful."
Although this wasn't an online threat, Willmott says she's concerned students write things on and off social media without thinking of the consequences.
"In talking to our kids today, it's trying to integrate into then a sense of ownership," she says. "It's your school, you guys are there more than I am. Don't underplay anything. If it's not serious, let us know and we'll deal with it. But if you underplay it and you don't let us know, it could be something serious."
Threats have 'potential to cause grief'
Northern Ontario schools are no strangers to threats of violence. In October 2016, Espanola High School and Chapleau High School closed during the week after receiving bomb threats. Nothing dangerous came of the threats, but staff and students were still affected.
"Those types of things, whether they're a hoax or real, they have the potential to cause a lot of grief through the process," says Joe Santa Maria, superintendent of business for the Algoma District School Board.
Santa Maria says the threat experience showed staff that their security procedures, like their lockdown drills, needed an update.
"A number of things come into play like how do you go to the washroom, how do you supply food, and so on," he says.
The school board also updated their list of emergency contacts, security plans and places where those details were posted. With all the changes made, Santa Maria says he's confident his school board is prepared for another threat situation.
But he hopes it doesn't come to that.
"I think schools are safe places and both staff, students and parents know that," Santa Maria says. "And I want to think that the community and society at large believe that."