Prevention is the top mandate against violence in high school

Golden Secondary School has only had a couple lockdowns in its history, but it is always better to be safe than sorry, which is why principal Iris Trask takes student safety seriously.

There are a number of programs in place to ensure the safety of the students at GSS, and schools in B.C. practise preventative measures to keep incidents from happening.

A provincial program, ERASE (Expect Respect and Safe Education), is supported by the Ministry of Education. In addition, the School District 6, the RCMP, and the Ministry of Children and Family Development have signed a regional V-TRA (Violent and Threat Risk Assessment) protocol. Also, a fair notice brochure is sent to all parents at the start of each year outlining the process.

The notice outlines that SD6 will address all threats to self and others, through their commitment to creating and maintaining a safe school environment.

“Basically the work we do in B.C. is preventative. We do a lot of work so that we aren’t in a situation such as what is happening in the States,” GSS principal Iris Trask said.

Trask adds that all parents at GSS have a copy of the V-TRA, which is sent out at the beginning of the school year.

“So they have an understanding of what the process is, and how we follow through, and how we work to prevent situations from happening, and at the same time give support to individuals who are in a place of need,” she said.

Behaviours that warrant a student violence threat risk assessment include serious violence, verbal or written threats, Internet or social media threats, and possession of weapons. To keep school communities safe, staff, parents, students, and community members must report all threat related behaviours.

“Most worrisome behaviour or things that are happening are cries for help,” Trask said. “An individual doesn’t know what to do, and the cry for help might get louder. We are trained to watch out for worrisome behaviour and signs.”

All school districts in B.C. are networked through ERASE, and have regular training for school teams. There is also a safe schools coordinator in each district. For SD6, the coordinator is Jennifer Turner, assistant superintendent.

“We have a school team that is highly trained and we share that training with staff,” Trask said.

Worrisome behaviour can vary in student’s behaviours. It could be that someone wrote a poem in English class, and the staff picked up on the change in behaviour. Then, staff would check in with that individual and see what is happening with them.

“Sometimes it’s nothing, sometimes it’s a little something. We’re checking into that behaviour all the time,” Trask said.

The school works closely with the RCMP to ensure the safety of its students during a lockdown. GSS practises two lockdowns each year, to train the students in case of an emergency. The PA system would go off, and a blue strobe light would begin to flash in the hallways, instructing everyone to hide and lock the doors.

“Basically, when the alert comes on, everybody is hidden. Lights go out. We usually keep our classroom doors locked, so in the case of a lockdown, it just needs to be closed,” Trask explained.

Students and staff rely on communication and positive relationships with their partners to report worrisome behaviours, and Trask says prevention is the best way to keep incidents from happening in the school. There have been two incidents, Trask recalls, when she has had to activate the lockdown protocol.

One was when two adult men were entering the student parking lot in the rear of the school, and continued into the shop compound without speaking to anyone beforehand. The odd behaviour prompted the lockdown, and RCMP later found out that one of the men was a student’s uncle who had come to check on them.

Another was misinformation given to the school that there could be a threat of a shooting. GSS went into lockdown, and it was later discovered that the information was untrue.

There has never been a firearm incident at GSS. On occasion, pocket knives have been found on students, but it is usually just the student forgetting to leave them at home, Trask said.

After graduating into the RCMP program, all RCMP cadets now receive patrol carbine and immediate action rapid deployment training, explained Cst. Spencer Lainchbury. The training is now mandatory for all RCMP officers.

“The objective to the RCMP’s… training is to ensure the swift and immediate deployment of law enforcement resources to an ongoing, life threatening situation where delayed deployment could result in death or grievous bodily harm to innocent persons,” Lainchbury said.

RCMP and GSS staff have received training on how to attend incidents at the high school. Trask also recently received a certificate for “trauma informed schools,” which will help Trask assist students in need.

“When anything happens, it’s not just a school incident, it’s a community incident, because we are housing youth that belong to families in the community,” she said. “That’s the key thing. We are very fortunate to have such well informed and close working partner groups within our community.”

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