Following recent lockdowns at schools in the North Bay and Parry Sound regions, the Near North District School Board (NNDSB) has held several debriefing sessions with various stakeholders to review and enhance our response to lockdown situations, including communication with families and stakeholders.
Schools regularly practice lockdown drills so that all students and staff are prepared to respond safely and efficiently in the event of an emergency. The board is proud of staff and students for their handling of these tense and difficult situations and is grateful that no one was injured during these events.
Changes to communication with families and stakeholders during and following a lockdown will now include:
- the communications team will endeavour to post to the board’s social media accounts that the school is in lockdown;
- the communications team will send an email and recorded message via SchoolMessenger to families of the school in lockdown when possible ;
- where possible, the board will share the social media posts of the police service involved, if applicable;
- once the lockdown is over, the communications team will share that information on the board’s social media accounts and update the Board of Trustees;
- a letter to families from the impacted school will be sent following the lockdown.
All NNDSB families are encouraged to like and follow the social media accounts of the school(s) their children attend and the NNDSB accounts. Families who want to be added to the SchoolMessenger voicemail and/or email list must submit the board’s Canadian Anti-Spam Legislation (CASL) form to their school(s).
One issue that came to light during the debriefs was the number of students and/or families communicating with each other via mobile devices during the lockdowns. While we understand that the situation is excruciating for all during a lockdown, safety is of paramount importance. Receiving a notification could expose the location of staff and students, compromising their safety. It is imperative that messages not be sent or received during a lockdown.
Another concerning issue was the amount of misinformation being shared on social media during the West Ferris Secondary School (WFSS) lockdown, which may have increased public anxiety and fear. The erroneous online reporting of events and injuries necessitated additional investigation by members of the North Bay Police Service (NBPS). This, in turn, lengthened the time WFSS was in lockdown.
During the time that a school is in lockdown and police are on the scene, it is a police investigation. Families and community members should not attempt to gain access to the premises, as this results in police resources being used to manage growing crowds rather than dealing with the reason for the lockdown.
During the lockdown at WFSS, parents and community members chose to attend the school once notification of a lockdown was communicated. As a result of increased traffic in the area, emergency vehicles would have been unable to provide additional support to WFSS because personal vehicles were stopped and parked on the roads. It is imperative that roadways are kept clear, and that parents, guardians and community members remain away from the scene.
Insp. Jeff Warner of NBPS says, “Our officers are trained to respond to situations involving potential threats to the children and staff within our schools. This training is intense and follows the best practices from other agencies across the country and the United States. Our officers remain focused on their objective and should not be hampered by other distractions.”
Addressing the concerns of families and community members, Insp. Warner says, “I understand the frustration and fear of the parents wondering if their child is safe but in order to maintain a safe operation within the school, parents attempting to gain entry, push past our officers or inundate our emergency phone lines at headquarters does hamper our ability to work safely and effectively. I would like to remind parents and caregivers to trust in the ability of the officers who are responding and to take some level of comfort in knowing our officers will do everything possible to ensure everyone is safe.”
During a lockdown, phones will not be answered at the school or the board office, nor will there be any updates unless they are initiated by the responding police service. Please do not call a police detachment, as they will not be able to provide updates during an event either. Parents and guardians are asked to watch police services’ social media accounts to receive the most accurate and up-to-date information during a lockdown.
If police receive a call that indicates a person with a weapon is at or in the school, the goal is to eliminate the threat. We understand this is difficult, but it is vital that students, staff and families trust the process and follow the lockdown procedures. Everyone should familiarize themselves with NNDSB’s school emergency procedures, and contact their school if there are questions.
Superintendent of Education Gay Smylie says, “The Safe Schools team will continue to work with police services across the district to ensure that our emergency response policies and practices are effective, efficient and maintain the highest level
of student safety possible. We are thankful to the North Bay Police Service and the Ontario Provincial Police for their continued support during and following these events.”