Amid unease due to threats made to injure students of the School of the Nations and the subsequent shooting of its principal outside his home on Sunday, a security plan was yesterday presented to parents but some remain concerned that the planned measures are not enough.
In preparation for the reopening of the school on Monday, parents were yesterday brought up to date with the developments and changes that they will see at the school in the coming weeks to address their security concerns. Works have already started in some areas.
Violent threats were made via Facebook to the student body of the privately-run school last Saturday. This resulted in an emergency meetings late Sunday afternoon. Hours after addressing parents’ security concerns, principal of the school Dr Brian O’Toole was shot by a gunman at his home. This resulted in another meeting where a decision was made by the school’s administration to close the school until the security concerns were addressed.
At the meeting yesterday, parents were subjected to bag checks and were scanned by metal detectors. In addition to the private security guards from Delta Security Service, police ranks were also seen at the gate of the school’s compound.
The security plan presented by Anthony Peters, a security coordinator of the Professional Guard Services Inc – a third security firm hired by the school – highlighted defensive measures in the event of a shooting. The plan also outlined procedures the school will implement in a bid to limit the threat from becoming a reality.
Parents were told that the school will be carrying out bag checks on senior students, utilise two different entrances during peak hours, scan everyone at security checkpoints and will be installing public address and intercom systems in every classroom.
It was also pointed out that patrols from the security services will be in the vicinity of the school periodically during the day. In cases where elder siblings will be taking their younger siblings to school, the backpack of the younger sibling will be subjected to a security search, parents were told.
In addition, parents were informed that the school has adopted ‘ALICE,’ an active shooter response plan. Peters told parents that the response plan was already taught to teachers and they will be teaching it to students when classes recommence. He explained that the programme is internationally recognised and has been used by schools abroad that are prone to threats.
After the presentation, many parents were still concerned that the stringent security measures were not enough to cushion against the likelihood of the threat becoming a reality.
Questioned about the length of time the security firm will take to respond to an armed attack at the school, Brian McTurk of Professional Guard Services said the response will be in an estimated 10 minutes.
On this note, one parent raised the issue of the use of armed security guards at the school.
However, he was told by Peters that the security firm does not believe it would be a wise decision to create a heavily guarded prison-like atmosphere for an environment where children from all ages are present.
He noted further, when the parent asked about the possibility of having the weapon concealed, that they are looking to limit the risk of a student being accidentally shot. On this note, he pointed out that they will be having guards armed with batons at the school.
The same parent questioned further whether it was wise to reopen the school given that the perpetrator of the threat is still being sought by the police.
Responding to the concern raised, Principal of the Upper Forms Orin Ross said the police have not advised against the planned reopening. Ross told parents that the matter is still being actively investigated but while the school has cooperated with the police, the lawmen have not been forthcoming with details or developments on the investigations.
Ross said that they had invited the police to attend the meeting yesterday but they did not show up. “I want to let you know that we attempted to get someone from the police to come here this evening to give us an update, so I spoke to the lead investigator, then I spoke to the Crime Chief,” he said.
Ross further stated that when he spoke with Crime Chief Lyndon Alves, it was related that the police have solicited the assistance of “overseas law enforcement agencies and at this point in time they wouldn’t want certain information to get out there to the public and hence that’s why they didn’t come this evening.”
In an attempt to assure the parents the matter is being treated seriously, Ross announced that the police will visit the school tomorrow and do a complete sweep of the compound and buildings.
Nonetheless, parents were not satisfied with the response and lobbied for them to demand answers from the police. “We will support you in getting the answers and it has to be a concerted effort,” said one parent, who was ready to form a delegation to meet with the police.
“When the threat was made against the President, within a week that was fixed. They have to know it’s their problem,” another parent pointed out, while questioning whether the police were treating the matter with any seriousness.
The parents stressed that only yesterday new threats surfaced to students of two public schools in Georgetown. Just before school sessions ended yesterday, threats were issued to Bishops’ High School and Queen’s College by an Instagram account that appeared to be linked to the Facebook from which threats were initially issued to the School of the Nations student body.
A statement from the police last night said that they have noted the threats and those matters are also being investigated. In the statement, the police force said it “wishes to assure members of the public that it is committed to ensuring safety and security of all students, teachers, administrators and parents of the aforementioned schools and all other private and government schools.”
Commissioner of Police Leslie James has told reporters that the police’s Cybercrime Unit is actively involved in the investigation since it is a serious matter.
Several persons were questioned in relation to the matter.
Meanwhile, co- founder and Director Pamela O’Toole informed the gathering that her husband Dr O’Toole remains in the hospital and is recuperating well. She said that he is expected to be discharged today and they are looking at the possibility of having him flown out of the country for corrective surgery.