November 22, 2013 - 2:36 PM
“IT SHOULD BE ABOUT TEACHING VIGILANCE, NOT FEAR”
KELOWNA - A recent string of seemingly random assaults at Okanagan Mission Secondary has at least one Mission parent calling for increased awareness of the dangers kids face, even while at school.
Harry de Haas has two children at OKM. His daughter Holly is in grade 10 and his son Harrison is in grade 8. Neither were directly involved when a partially undressed young woman ran through the front door of OKM Secondary shortly after noon Nov. 20 and allegedly began slapping students before escaping out a back door. Still, the incident has left him feeling "terrified" and "helpless" nonetheless.
According to RCMP, the young woman had apparently discarded her shirt before entering through the front door. Wearing only a bra and pants, police say she may have assaulted around a dozen students. Shortly after, Mounties found a 17-year-old woman on Lakeshore Road who fit the description given by students. She is currently in the care of medical professionals.
Superintendent of School District 23 Hugh Gloster says that although this was a unique and isolated case, it warrants a look at how safety is maintained at schools in his district.
“Any time we have any kind of critical incident it automatically leads us to doing a debriefing,” Gloster says. “That’s just part of our protocol and we’re doing that in response to this incident.”
He is quick to point out that the incident was “highly unusual” and that the young woman was clearly in a state of emotional or psychological stress.
“It was not as though this young person was out to target a specific person or anything like that,” he says. “It appeared to have been totally random. The students who were struck did not have any prior connection (to her).”
De Haas says that he understands that this was a unique and isolated incident, but still he would like to see schools do more to educate kids about the reality of the world they live in.
“In my opinion, this should be a wake-up call,” he says. “We can’t afford to be complacent or assume that because we live in a magical place like Kelowna that it’s all going to be rainbows and unicorns.”
“If you look at what happened at Sandy Hook, that was in a really nice, affluent neighbourhood, but it only takes one incident to do a lot of damage.”
He would like to see more of an effort made to educate kids on the fact that, even at a place as familiar and safe as a school in a wealthy neighbourhood, bad things still happen.
De Haas acknowledges that kids are probably much safer at school than almost all other public places but says he’s certain kids are also less vigilant than they would be in other, less familiar settings.
“I know my daughter would be more on guard at the mall than at school. Kids have a level of comfort at school so it’s easy to let their guard down,” he says.
“It should be about teaching vigilance, not fear.”
Immediately following the incident, the School District sent out members of a Critical Incident Response Team (CIRT) to assess the situation and provide support where needed. Gloster says that the parents of students directly affected were notified immediately as were neighbouring elementary schools. Some of which suspended all outdoor activities until the suspect was located and taken into custody.
The CIRT is made up of School District employees who are trained to handle traumas and other incidents that involve emergency operations.
“Typically it’s a sudden death of a student either as a result of a motor vehicle accident or other tragedy,” Gloster says. “In this case, I think the students realize that this was an absolutely random event and that their school is not at risk.”
“A lot of people have empathy for this young lady and her family and understand there’s something going on. We hope she can get the support she obviously needs.”
To contact the reporter for this story, email Adam Proskiw at email@example.com, call (250) 718-0428 or tweet @AdamProskiw.
News from © InfoTel News Ltd, 2013