School threat focus of parent meeting

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Emotions at times ran high as concerned parents gathered at Ecole Mallaig School to discuss what happened in the aftermath of a March 5 threat directed at the school, which forced a one-day school closure.

During the March 7 meeting, parents discussed the fact that one of the school’s students made a threat towards the school through a Snapchat account. An unknown person took a screenshot of the social media post, which eventually found its way into the hands of the school’s administration, with administration and the division making the decision to shut the school as a precaution on March 6.

While the school reopened on Tuesday, later in the evening, about 60 parents, staff and community members met with St. Paul Education Regional Division Superintendent Glen Brodziak, school administrators, and Cpl. Dave Henry of St. Paul RCMP, to discuss the situation.

Brodziak began the meeting with a detailed timeline of the events that took place, explaining he had heard from principal Tom Whitfield on Sunday night that the school might have a potential serious situation on hand.

“Ten minutes later, we called 911 with the information that we had, and before ten o’clock, police had taken a statement from Tom to learn everything he knew.&”

During the night, police thoroughly searched the home of the student, who was later charged with uttering threats and failing to comply with court conditions relating to a previous charge.

However, Henry said the home search left him feeling that there was no real, imminent threat to the school or its students and staff.

“We searched the house very carefully,&” said Henry. “In the end, there were three things that showed me that the situation would not escalate. First off, we found no weapons of any kind. No knives, guns, batons, or even baseball bats. Second, the student didn’t have a hit list or a layout of the school, which 90 per cent of serious offenders have. Third, real serious offenders don’t advertise like this student did. Due to all these things, and the face that the threat had been secured, and was being monitored and watched, led me to the conclusion that there was no longer any serious danger.&”

Brodziak said he requested that police provide a member outside of the school on Monday morning to ensure the safety of students. Discussions of cancelling school took place, but a firm decision was only made in the morning, after buses had already left to bring students to the school. Students were turned away upon arrival at the school in the morning, with each receiving a sealed letter to deliver back home to explain why the school was closed that day.

Reaction in the meeting was mixed, in regards to the response of the threat.

One mother asked Brodziak if he would have been comfortable sending his own children to school under the same circumstances, and he replied that he would.

“Well then, if the powers that be thought it was safe and did everything they thought was best, then we just have to trust them,&” the mother replied. Others weren’t so easily satisfied.

One man at the meeting was extremely upset with the decision to have children come to the school to receive a letter, only to turn them away shortly after.

“If you can cancel buses because of weather conditions at six in the morning, why would you not just cancel school outright immediately?&” he asked. “Why would that be so hard?&”

Brodziak explained that he didn’t want to simply send out an automated phone message to every parent. He said he felt that would worry parents even more, and begin a vicious cycle of rumour and speculation.

“I felt that the least we could do is give them the sealed letter and provide a bit more information that we would have been able to over a phone message. If I could go back and do it again, would I? I honestly don’t know. Was it the right decision? I hope so, and I stand by it.&”

Another parent voiced support for the response.

“It’s easy for all of us, myself included, to pick this decision apart until the only thing that is left is negativity,&” he said. “But until we’ve been in a situation like this, and had to make a call in the middle of a whirlwind of stress and doubt, I don’t think we’ll ever fully understand all the reasoning.&”

Brodziak later affirmed that the safety of students and staff members was never compromised.

Class returned to normal on Tuesday morning at école Mallaig School, but the doors to the school were kept locked, and no outdoor recess was held. At the conclusion of the meeting, Brodziak asked parents if they’d like to continue this arrangement for the time being, or if they wanted their children to return to a sense of normalcy in school and have outdoor recess.

The majority voted to return things to normal, asking for added supervision and that teachers would greet students outside at arriving buses and escort them into the building.

The following day, the incident was brought up at SPERD’s regular board meeting. Brodziak offered the board a short recap of the situation and meeting held Tuesday night.

“Student safety is our number one concern,&” affirmed Brodziak, as he spoke to the board, adding, “There’s a lot of moving parts&” when dealing with a situation of this nature.

He acknowledged that it’s hard to balance and share information, since the degree of information that can be shared with various people is different on a case-by-case basis.

Brodziak said the turnout at the parent meeting was good, and acknowledged, “it was emotional at times.&”

Board chair Heather Starosielski spoke during the board meeting, as both a board member and parent to a child at Mallaig School, saying, a situation of this nature does heighten the fear that exists, but she acknowledged the work put in by administration and RCMP to “take every piece and weigh it out.&”

One item that Brodziak brought up during the board meeting was the continued importance of teaching students about “digital citizenship,&” and making them aware that their online presence can have consequences.

As school returned back to normal during the week, Brodziak said it was crucial to ensure students felt safe. While increased supervision did take place, it was only in place “for the comfort level of the kids.&”

“We’re here for you. We’re watching over you,&” said Brodziak.

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