The Howe Sound School District has upgraded some of its emergency response procedures after a secondary school faced a threat of violence.
“We are reviewing all of our procedures,” said school board superintendent Dr. Rick Erickson.
The board was already looking at its emergency preparedness plans as it felt they needed to be upgraded, but the April 11th incident at Howe Sound Secondary has added new impetus to the upgrade and some changes are now in place.
“The difference is the specific steps we take now,” said Erickson.
A threat was first brought to Erickson’s attention on Friday, April 11 when the principal of Howe Sound Secondary, Nancy Campbell, alerted the superintendent that a threat had been made against the school and students.
Erickson immediately called the RCMP and an investigation was launched into the nature of the threat.
Meetings continued on Saturday, April 12, with RCMP making experts on this type of situation available to the school district.
Erickson said after some investigation it was concluded that the Friday threat was some weeks old and it was at a minimal level.
However, Spring Creek Elementary school principal Gerri Galloway, who is in charge of re-vamping emergency preparedness for the district, went ahead and refined the school lock-down plan.
“So we now have one set of processes, one set of identification of the threat level,” said Erickson.
On Sunday, April 13, following further discussions with the RCMP, and with the assurance from police that two officers would be based at the school all day Monday, it was decided to go ahead with school as normal on Monday.
But on Monday, April 14, another threat was made. Police determined this was a separate incident from the first one. A 15-year-old female student was arrested in relation to the Monday threat.
Staff and students were briefed first thing Monday morning on the threat. The school also had a practice lock-down using the refined procedure.
A notice was sent home to parents Monday afternoon.
HSS Parent Advisory Council chair Simon Wong said he was satisfied with the response by the school, the school board, and the RCMP to the threat.
However, he plans to bring it up at this Monday’s PAC meeting. In particular he wants to discuss how the threat was communicated to parents. Some parents have voiced outrage in local papers at the failure to be properly notified.
“It is certainly something that will be up for discussion,” said Wong.
“Maybe there is something we can do and maybe there isn’t.”
Erickson said communication is a key area that is being looked at, but in general all the news the school board wants to get out on a daily basis is on its website at www.sd48.bc.ca .
“Each day (of the incident) on the school district website we posted the information for that day,” he said.
“We will be looking at ways to try to incorporate some sort of e-mail registration for notices and I hear at UBC that they are looking at text messaging as well.
“Our goal is to be able to get the information out fast and accurately — that is really important.”
In many ways the incident has brought home the realization that small communities like Squamish, Whistler and Pemberton are not immune to threats of these kind.
“…Even though things have been quiet we need to be prepared for anything,” said Erickson.
Said Wong: “Personally I have realized that we are a small community, but we are not sheltered from these things that happen in the world. They eventually come here.”
Erickson said the incident, which is still under investigation by the RCMP, is a good reminder to communities that if there are youth in trouble it is better to seek help for them than to pretend nothing is happening.
“…It is a reminder to everyone in the school community how important it is to report any kind of problem that a person has so that we can get help from people in our system,” he said.