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How would Burnaby school district deal with active shooter, explosion, bear on playground: info session

The Burnaby school district is hosting a parent information session on May 8 to discuss its policies and procedures for dealing with critical incidents, including school shootings and other threats.
critical-incidents
Burnaby Mountain Secondary was put into a hold and secure in February as police responded to a "possible threat."

What would happen if an active shooter showed up at a Burnaby school? What if there was an explosion or an aggressive bear on the playground?

Those are some questions the Burnaby school district plans to answer during an information session for local families next month.

Lock down, hold and secure, evacuation

Being Prepared: School Safety During Critical Incidents takes place on May 8.

Critical incidents come in many forms, and schools respond in a variety of ways, including evacuations, lockdowns and hold-and-secure procedures.

Those scenarios are simulated during drills with students at schools, but now parents will get a chance to find out more, ask questions and give feedback,

“It’s obvious that it’s important to everyone, parents and students and staff,” Nick Christofides, the school district’s director of safe and caring schools, told the NOW, “and our hope is increased awareness, increased dialogue, being open about how we train, what we’re trained in and why we’re doing what we’re doing.”

Christofides said there has been “a ton” of interest in the information session, and the district expects about 1,000 attendees so far.

“There have been a number of high-profile cases in Metro Vancouver and across North America involving teen safety, many of them outside of school,” he said. “That, understandably, has parents more concerned … Providing context about just how rare it is to have a serious threat in a Burnaby school, and what we do to prepare in the event of that rarity to keep people safe can be empowering for families,” he said.

‘Often … we can’t give all the information’

Last school year, there were six hold and secures, but no lockdowns or evacuations at local schools, according to the district.

So far this year, there have been one hold and secure, two lockdowns and one evacuation.

While the district debriefs with students, staff and parents after such incidents, Christofides said  the parent information session will provide a chance for more fulsome discussions about why the district does what it does – including not always providing as much information as parents would like.

“Often, when we can’t give all the information, maybe because there’s police involvement and it’s not our information to give, parents obviously want to know more, but there’s a limit to what we can offer sometimes” Christofides said.

The use of cell phones during a school emergency is another topic the session will cover.

Christofides noted students texting parents to tell them they’re OK might be a good thing, but use of a cell phone during a lockdown could also put students and staff in danger or spread unnecessary panic with incorrect information.

The parent session will be led by the district’s safe and caring schools team, who are trained by the North American Centre for Threat Assessment and Trauma Response and the Centre for Trauma Informed Practices, according to Christofides.

Crisis expert

For parents who want to go deeper into the subject, Christofides said there will be another session in September led by Kevin Cameron, the executive director of the Centre for Trauma Informed Practices.

Cameron led the crisis response during the deadly W. R. Myers High School shooting in Taber, Alta. just eight days after the April 1999 Columbine High School shooting in Columbine, Colo.

In partnership with the RCMP’s behavioural sciences unit, Cameron developed Canada's first comprehensive, multidisciplinary violence threat risk assessment training program – one of the programs the Burnaby school district uses for training, according to Christofides.

More information about that event will come out at a later date.

In the meantime, parents who want to attend the May 8 session are asked to register using a link sent to families on April 14.

Depending on the number of registrations, the location will be at either Burnaby Central Secondary or the Michael J. Fox Theatre from 6:30 to 8 p.m.

Follow Cornelia Naylor on Twitter @CorNaylor
Email cnaylor@burnabynow.com