Cell phones could be used in school lockdowns

School District 43 will be using Code Red and Code Yellow to assess threats to schools. - THINKSTOCK.COM
School District 43 will be using Code Red and Code Yellow to assess threats to schools.
— image credit: THINKSTOCK.COM

Cell phones played a key role in a March lockdown at Dr. Charles Best secondary school to calm fears about an intruder and could be used more frequently to share information about threats to schools.

School District 43 is standardizing its lockdown procedure across all 70 schools with the goal of keeping students safer and will now be looking at how cell phone communication could be used more effectively.

"What we have to do is in cooperation (with staff and students) look at how cell phones can be used appropriately as a tool in a lockdown," assistant superintendent Tom Grant told trustees at a board of education meeting.

Instead of banning cell phone calls during an emergency, students could be encouraged to use them to inform their parents about what is going on.

That's what happened March 28 when lockdown procedures were implemented at Best after a 16-year-old youth who wasn't a student at the school was escorted off the property by principal Mary O'Neill. There was also an unconfirmed report that the youth had a gun.

The students were told to stay in their classrooms but later moved to a rallying point at Coquitlam Alliance Church where parents were asked to pick up their kids shortly before 4 p.m.

Vice-principal Kristi Blakeway said cell phones were an effective part of a communication system. Teachers were instructed to log onto their computers and were given updated information that was then passed on to students, who in turn shared the news with their parents.

"By providing as much information as possible, in conjunction with the RCMP, students were able to update their parents and let them know they were safe. We also used our school website to provide information to parents," Blakeway stated in an email.

Schools will now use a colour-coded system to rate school threats and determine what actions should be taken. Code Red lockdowns will be implemented for imminent and immediate threats and Code Yellow will be used where there is no immediate or active threat. Code Green is used as an all-clear signal.

Some schools have already been using this system but the policy has now been updated for all schools with the support of Port Moody Police and the Coquitlam RCMP.

The youth who prompted the Best lockdown was arrested 12 hours after the incident and charged with failing to comply with conditions of an undertaking from a prior charge, which include a curfew, and not to possess a cell phone.

The district does not have records of previous lockdowns but students are occasionally kept indoors when a bear is sighted. However, in 2004 students at Gleneagle were locked down for several hours and in 2007 Centennial school was evacuated after a bomb threat.



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