School safety a shared responsibility

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Unspecified threats shut down two Albertan schools last week, with Ecole Mallaig shut down on Monday, and Ecole Okotoks Junior High School shut on Thursday. In both circumstances, threats were reported after school hours by students, with RCMP releases describing the school closures as moves of caution while investigations took place.

While threats can be idle throwaways, RCMP and school staff, responsible for the safety of hundreds, must and did treat them seriously. But in Mallaig, an emergency parent council meeting held after the threat took place, aimed to take the conversation further – what happens when a threat is made? How could we do better? How do we deal with this as a school and community going forward?

One thing should be clear to young people in these circumstances – students not only have to be careful about what they say, but also what they post on social media, and know it’s not just a matter of being responsible, it’s a matter of law. Threats of death, or serious bodily harm, criminal harassment and distribution of intimate images without consent can all be grounds for RCMP to conduct an investigation and determine if charges can or should be laid.

But parents also have a responsibility to make sure their kids understand the expectations of them. While many parents admonish their kids when young not to be a “tattle-tale,” hopefully young students realize the buck stops at the point when people are at risk of getting hurt or of hurting themselves. In the case of Mallaig and Okotoks both, the maturity of young people who saw or heard a threat and decided to report it to an adult is to be applauded. Parents should talk to their kids about online activities, chat rooms and even online games with messaging components, which can be used as vehicles for child luring.

Schools can do a lot to help young people, to learn skills, to make friends, to find passions and to form their identity. But school institutions and staff can’t work in a vacuum – they need the support of parents and their community to ensure each of our children acts to the standards and expectations set out for them, and there is support for the students who need it. Keeping our children safe is not just the responsibility of the school, it’s a responsibility for us all.

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