A Terrace BC Teachers Federation (BCTF) union president wants Coast Mountains School District to review its emergency response procedures to make sure teachers are notified about potential violent threats in a timely manner.
Concerning messages were reported on four days between May 7 to May 13 by both Skeena Middle School and Mount Elizabeth Middle Secondary School.
Officials were alerted to the initial incident at Skeena Middle School on May 7, when a shooting threat was written on the boys’ washroom mirror. This prompted the school and CMSD to contact the RCMP and Safer Schools Together (SST) — the school district’s provincial student safety experts.
Then on May 10, school district officials were told of another threatening message sent on social media in connection to Skeena Middle School.
However, teachers and the union were the last to know about the final threat made at Skeena Middle School, local BCTF president Mike Wen says. Instead of notifying teachers and union representatives directly, the school district issued a public notice on their website as an update.
“It’s not good enough to just put a notice on the district website for all to see, teachers need to be a part of the information loop as well,” he says.
Currently, the district has a multidisciplinary violence threat risk assessment process which involves police and other key community partners.
But instead of adhering to that process, the school district notified parents before teachers, resulting in additional stress and confusion for staff.
There was also a brief delay in accessing mental health and wellness supports and resources for teachers through the union because the information they had was unverified, Wen says.
“A lot of teachers were more affected by the threats of violence than one would like because it’s the extra stress, of the added burden of what could be happening at the school; it’s the worry for the students and the worry for their principals who have to be on point in these situations.”
Soon after the risks were mitigated, Wen says he met with district superintendent Katherine McIntosh and senior administrators to talk about communication.
He says in a formal meeting McIntosh listened with concern and understood the importance of notifying teachers as soon as RCMP and Safe Schools started dealing with potential threats.
“If all we have to do is work on rumour then what you‘re going to get is the most extreme reaction…implying that teachers would refuse unsafe work and you’d have to deal with it that way.”
He says there is room for improvement when it comes to how the district communicated these threats to teachers in both Terrace and Kitimat.
“Like any sort of disaster preparedness plan, it’s always sitting someplace, you never use it until you really have to — and they really had to in this circumstance. There were bugs in it, things weren’t perfect,” Wen says.
“They really need to do a good debrief on the district level and look at what worked and what they could improve, and improvements include communication with the teachers and the union.”
When asked for comment about a potential review, McIntosh referred to a letter issued to parents back in January, which says once an initial response team is activated, interviews may be held with students, parents and staff to determine the level of risk and develop a response.