THUNDER BAY - With the cancellation of a public meeting last week to discuss the ongoing anonymous threats directed at Hammarskjold High School, parents are becoming more and more frustrated and want answers.
The Hammarskjold School Council intends to provide answers and allow parents to ask questions by holding a public meeting Tuesday evening that will go ahead regardless of any threats.
“We decided, after a lot of people reached out and said if the meeting is for parents, adults can make the decision if they feel comfortable coming or not, that we are going to go ahead,” said Hammarskjold School Council chair, Cheri Lappage. “We are going to provide people with a venue to ask questions, to provide information, and come together as a community.”
Thunder Bay Police have received 13 anonymous threats against Hammarskjold this year, which resulted in the closure of the school by the Lakehead Public School Board 11 times. The most recent closure occurred Monday morning, the fifth time in a week.
A public meeting was originally scheduled to take place last Thursday at Hammarskjold High School, but the school received a threat that day and according to Lappage, the Lakehead Public School Board decided to cancel the meeting.
“What I was told was due to the nature of the threat received, they did not feel comfortable having it at the school or moving it to an alternate site,” she said. “We had an alternate site in mind that had been agreed to, but there as a feeling that maybe that could not be secured.”
A spokesperson with the School Board said following the cancellation of the meeting that the potential for an alternate location was discussed but the same issue could be faced at any location and the decision was made because it was the safest course of action for everyone involved.
The meeting on Tuesday will include the same information that was to be provided last week and deal primarily with questions relating to curriculum, if the school year needs to be extended, and how to help Grade 12 students applying to college or university.
Lappage added the school council will reach out to the Thunder Bay Police Service and the School Board to a part of the meeting, though she is not expecting them to be in attendance.
There is growing frustration among parents with how the situation is being handled by the School Board and the police.
“I think we’ve reached a point where people really want clear answers from the board as to why we cannot proceed with a hold and secure regular school day with kids in the building,” she said. “This is a school that is easily secured and locked down. There is no reason why we cannot run a regular school day, at least sometimes.”
The School Board has said in the past that the decision to close the school is based on the nature of the threat and is done so for the safety of students and staff.
Learning the Ontario Provincial Police are now assisting in the investigation also provided parents with some relief but left others asking why it took so long.
“People have been asking for a long time why the police were not reaching out for help and it’s nice to see, I’m encouraged to see it, but I would have liked to have seen this in March,” Lappage said.
The ongoing closures continue to impact students and families, who wake up each morning unsure if another threat will be directed at the school.
“I’ve heard of parents having to take vacation or sick days because every time they go through this, their child has a panic attack or anxiety issue, and they have to take care of their child for the rest of the day. This is really wearing on everyone,” Lappage said.
But students are resilient, Lappage added, and one Grade 11 student, Julia Cross, even reached out to the federal government, penning a letter to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, which was forwarded to Ralph Goodale, Minister of Public Safety.
“It’s really an amazing letter, written first hand from the heart from a student asking for help for the school and the community. We are hoping that will get some exposure, too," Lappage said. "That really speaks to the heart of our kids at our school and the resilience of our Vikings.”
The public meeting is scheduled to take place Tuesday evening at 7 p.m. The location of the meeting will not be made public until late Tuesday afternoon. Lappage said security personnel will be on site to secure the location before the meeting starts.
Anyone with information about the threats directed at Hammarskjold can contact the Thunder Bay Police tip line at 684-5001. A reward of more than $12,000 is being offered for information that leads to the arrest and conviction of the person or persons responsible.