Let me start by congratulating and thanking the Ottawa Police, Ottawa-Carleton District School Board (OCDSB), and the staff and students at Glebe Collegiate Institute (GCI) for the quick and peaceful resolution of what could have been a horrible event. We often reflect on what could have been. This is a case where the very best outcome was made possible by all of these players.
What am I talking about?
A student of GCI was arrested on Thursday (October 19) for a myriad of charges including possessing a loaded firearm, carrying a concealed weapon, and careless usage, handling or storage of a firearm. An unused bullet was found on school property and the gun found off property. The arrest apparently took place off property without incident.
Here’s where things went off the rails a bit.
A little more than an hour after the whole incident began, the OCDSB sent an email to parents saying “Glebe Collegiate is currently in secure school.” The email came just minutes after the Board had issued a similar statement on Twitter. This despite students texting, tweeting and Snapchatting from inside the school that they were on lockdown. Local media picked up on the Board’s tweet and started reporting about it online, on the radio and television.
There is a very important difference between lockdown and secure school.
According the the OCDSB, secure school is invoked when the presence of students in the hall would interfere with the work of authorities. In secure school, classes and office routines continue as usual while the hallways remain clear with doors locked. Lockdowns are declared when there is “an active threat to the safety of persons in the school.” In these cases, OCDSB procedures involve taking attendance, not answering doors or phones, everyone hiding and remaining silent, windows and doors being covered, and everyone staying in place. The latter suggests a more ominous situation.
Many people initially dismissed the students’ “lockdown” tweets as young people misunderstanding or overstating the situation. Before long, it was clear the students were indeed on lockdown. They were told to hide. They were told to be silent. Windows were covered.
It wasn’t until CBC Ottawa publicly asked the OCDSB — buttonholed, as a colleague said — on Twitter thirty minutes later that the Board acknowledged the school was on lockdown.
Things got more interested when the school emailed parents late in the day characterizing the situation with “It is also important that we avoid speculation and rumour.” The email explained that the school was put into lockdown immediately. After the police had completed the investigation and the suspect was apprehended, the school was put in “shelter in place meaning students were asked to stay inside the school. This allowed time for staff and students to connect and was an important bridge to resuming regular school activities.”
What the OCDSB and school failed to acknowledge in their outreach is that they appear to be the source of the “speculation and rumours.” It looks very bad on the Board that it attempted to position the situation to avoid panic in an age where people panic on news weapons in schools. In doing so, they created elevated suspicion and concern when the truth was exposed. If simple statements like which policy had been invoked were being spun and then contradictions blamed on the students, what else might be false coming from the board.
It appears the OCDSB dismissed social media as the great equalizer, a platform over which they have no control and over which their mis-messaging could be easily exposed.