THUNDER BAY - Fear and anxiety is taking a toll on students at a north side high school who wake up in the morning unsure if they will be turned back on their way to school due to another anonymous threat.
“My Grade 9 is at home right now because it has taken such a toll that she is completely frazzled,” said Cheri Lappage, school council chair at Hammarskjold High School. “Even going through the rigors of getting up and getting yourself mentally prepared to go to school after a threat, to then be on the bus and be turned around or get to school and be turned around is taking a toll.”
Hammarskjold High School has been the subject of 10 anonymous threats since October, eight of which have resulted in Lakehead Public School Board closing the school. In the last week alone, the school was closed five times and on Tuesday, Superior Collegiate and Vocational Institute was also closed. The school was opened on Wednesday.
On Thursday night, students, parents, and the public will have an opportunity learn about what steps are being taken in the wake of repeated threats and have their questions answered.
“This is a shared experience,” Lappage said. “We really want to have that opportunity to share it together and that support, even just a group setting, is a lot.”
The meeting will take place Thursday night from 6:30 p.m. to 8 p.m. in the Hammarskjold gymnasium and will include members of the school and School Board administration and an inspector with the Thunder Bay Police Service.
There have been several strategies already put in place to help students impacted by the repeated threats, including online portals to mental health and academic resources.
“The board and our school have been working really hard to put together things like online resources,” Lappage said. “There is a lot of information teachers are putting online to help students catch up so they are ready to go when they are in school.”
Mental health resources are available as well, including information on how to talk to kids about the situation and where to find support.
“For a lot of kids this is really becoming anxiety inducing and really becoming a concern,” she said. “We want to make sure those supports are in place so people know who to reach out to. Parents are anxious too.”
“It’s scary, whether there is a threat that comes in or not,” Lappage continued. “It is a scary day. You just sit by your phone and hoping for the best, hoping they are going to get through the day without seeing that text that there is another hold and secure or lockdown.”
According to Lappage, when faced with situations like this, people need to be given an opportunity to talk, provide feedback, and ask questions.
“We are all in this together,” she said. “No one has ever been through a scenario like this before and a lot of times just that joint experience and being able to say: yes, we are frustrated, we are right there with you, helps a lot.”
In the event a threat is directed at the meeting Thursday evening, a contingency plan is in place and will be enacted if needed. Uniformed officers will also be at the school prior to, during, and until the end of the meeting.
Anyone with information about the threats directed at Hammarskjold or Superior high schools is asked to contact the dedicated Thunder Bay Police Service tip-line at 684-5001.
The Lakehead Public School Board is offering a cash award for any information that leads to the arrest and conviction or the person or persons responsible. The award, which initially started at $5,000, has grown to $12,050 with the help of donations from various community groups and organizations.