News Local

School lockdown bolsters union's concerns about safety

By Ron Grech

This was the scene Wednesday afternoon outside of the Kapuskasing Public Education Centre, which houses Kapuskasing District High School, École Publique Secondaire Écho du Nord and Diamond Jubilee Public School.

This was the scene Wednesday afternoon outside of the Kapuskasing Public Education Centre, which houses Kapuskasing District High School, École Publique Secondaire Écho du Nord and Diamond Jubilee Public School.


KAPUSKASING - It turns out the 15-year-old male whose threats prompted a lockdown at the multi-school complex in the Kapuskasing Wednesday is the same student who the teachers’ union claims brought a firearm into the school a month earlier, Postmedia Network has learned.

That was confirmed by officials with the English public school board and with the Ontario Secondary School Teachers’ Federation for the Northeast district.

Derek Beland, president of the local OSSTF, said Wednesday’s incident reaffirms the concerns that were expressed by both the union and staff following the alleged gun incident on Jan. 23 at Kapuskasing District High School.

“It's an unfortunate I-told-you-so moment,” said Beland, but “it reinforces the position that we've taken all along that there has been a credible threat.”

Both union and school board officials say the lockdown on Wednesday was triggered after a student reported a threat to the school uttered by the 15-year-old. That threat was reported to a teacher who then passed that information on to the principal. Police were then called immediately.

Beland said that is what should have happened back on Jan. 23.

The teachers’ federation has accused District School Board Ontario North East and the Ministry of Labour of mishandling an investigation in which a Grade 10 student in Kapuskasing was allegedly wielding a handgun in class.

The police were not immediately called on that occasion and the student was not confronted about the incident until the following day. When confronted, the student produced a black, plastic cap gun, which he handed to the principal.

Beland said security video footage of the incident shows the student waving something that is chrome or silver in colour — unlike the black toy gun that was handed over to the principal.

“In the absence of finding a silver chrome, metallic item that could have been depicted in the video, I don't know how any reasonable person could deem that risk to have been eliminated or mitigated. I think that is what solicited the response yesterday (Wednesday) from the police. They know they have never found that item, that weapon, and then they get a threat from that very same student, and that's how they responded, with a lockdown.

“There is the possibility that a real gun is still out there, hence the lockdown yesterday.”

Beland said the officers attended the school in “combat attire” and carrying long guns.

“That suggests to me somebody somewhere along the lines believes this was a credible threat.

“I have spoken with two individuals who have seen the video – the union rep in the building and the health and safety rep in the building. And of course they have had it reported to them by the original staff member, who reported it to the principal, the presence of this chrome, metallic weapon. And while the video may not be sufficient to allow a person to definitely determine if it is a gun or is it a knife, it is sufficient to determine that it is chrome, metallic implement of some kind that is being pointed in another student's face.”

He said based on that, and on the initial staff member’s complaint to the principal, “I don't know how anybody could draw the conclusion that” it was a black, plastic toy gun.

Following the incident on Jan. 23, police were eventually called on the insistence of the teachers’ federation. Police conducted an investigation but no charges were laid.

The student was off from school for about a week during the course of that police investigation. When he was reintegrated to the school, one of the teachers who had been assigned this student exercised his right under the Occupational Health and Safety Act to refuse unsafe work. This triggered an investigation by the Ontario Ministry of Labour.

Following that investigation, the labour ministry concluded there were no grounds for the teacher to claim unsafe work conditions.

The OSSTF has since launched an appeal with the Ontario Labour Relations Board concerning that determination.

Following the lockdown and arrest of that same student on Wednesday, Beland said, “We would rather not had yesterday's incident happen, but it has happened and it falls directly in line with what our assertions have been all along, this is a risk and it has been a risk since Jan. 23.”

Ironically, a Ministry of Labour official dropped off an order relating to the Jan. 23 incident, with the DSBONE on Wednesday just 40 minutes before the lockdown in Kapuskasing.

That order identified the fact the school board had not conducted an adequate workplace violence risk assessment following the alleged gun incident in January. This was a point that had previously been raised as a concern by the teachers’ federation following that incident.

Lesleigh Dye, director of education for DSBONE, said the Ministry of Labour has given the board until March 21 to complete that assessment.

While the order applies directly to Kapuskasing District High School, Dye said the board intends to take that order a step further by having workplace safety assessments carried out at all of their schools across the district.

This would invite input from staff to discuss safety concerns, ranging from lighting or structural deficiencies to individual students whom staff may have concerns about.

Dye said they hope to have those board-wide assessments completed before the end of the current school term.