More than one month on from the Christchurch shootings and six weeks on from Tauranga schools being placed in lockdown after gun shots were heard in the Otumoetai area, Principal of Otumoetai College Russell Gordon speaks to The Weekend Sun about his school’s policies and how they reacted when the school went into lockdown.
About five years ago the school became a part of a programme called Positive Behaviour for Learning, where they had to practise lockdowns at school. They practise them two-three times a year.
Once the principal or acting principal is informed of a potential incident, on site or close a switch is flipped to ring a continuous burst of bells. It runs for five minutes.
“That is the signal that it’s a lockdown. Once that occurs, every classroom door is locked, all the blinds are pulled down. Everyone then sits on the floor and sits below window level and out of sight.
To communicate, an email is sent to all classrooms, because they all have computers.
“Then what we do in order to communicate with staff, we send an email because in every classroom there is a computer, and so the staff know that that is how we will communicate with them. If it is something that is beyond our school site, like what happened six weeks ago, it was a lockdown at another site but close enough that it was proven that we also went into lockdown.”
A message is also sent to parents who may panic when they hear their child’s school has gone into a lockdown and rush to pick them up.
“I know that was a feature of what was happening in Christchurch where parents would knock on the windows of the classroom and demand their child. I guess for me, is that I don’t want the safety of anyone to be compromised and so that would be of the parents and of the children.
“I think the parents need to be fully informed of what’s going on, and I guess there has to be that level of trust. The safety of our students is our number one priority and we act in that manner to protect them. Per chance it was something on our school site and a parent came to get their child, then that compromises the integrity of the practise. So what we as a school would want is for the parents to trust in the process and allow us to keep children safe.”
During the morning, when the school went into lockdown Russell says the traffic on the school’s internet slowed processes down, as students wanted to know what was going on. They will solve the problem by sending out text messages to the parents.
“We will use part of the message, that will go to parents, family, whanau and caregivers that we will keep them updated through regular updates on our school website.”
He says all students knew exactly what to do in the March incident, and if they were out of the classroom, they knew where to go.
“Within 30 seconds of the bell the school was a ghost town.”
When asked if families should have a ‘family plan’ like they would with an earthquake or tsunami plan, Russell says it depends.
“I guess the most precious thing that any family has is their family. Once you feel there is an incident that might compromise the wellbeing of your child there are emotions that kick in that every parent can relate to.
“Parents don’t necessarily need to have a lockdown plan, I guess what parents need to know is that schools have lockdown plans.
“For example, when we had our previous lockdown we then had the police in and we showed them our procedure for them to critique. I guess that the lockdown plans that a family should have is to know that we will contact them, we will update them as we update our teachers because knowledge in these situations is power and so we will get the knowledge out through our website and so parents can trust the integrity of the process.”
Within the media throughout the country, more and more articles are being published about schools being put into lockdowns, but Russell says that although they are put into lockdown, 95 per cent of the time it is just precautionary.
“If there is any likelihood of any harm being caused on your school site, then it is encumbered upon us I believe to take no risks and therefore we will move into a lockdown scenario. I think lockdowns may be on the rise but I would say more so in a precautionary sense than actually responding to any individual traumatic events on a particular school site.”