In TDSB schools and classrooms across the city, students and staff are establishing the foundations for a successful year. One of the ways we know we can help students be successful is to create a safe and caring environment in which to learn. Though no-one ever wants to see an emergency happen at a school, it’s important for school staff to be equipped to deal with those situations, should they occur. At the beginning of each school year, and particularly during Safe and Caring Schools Weeks, TDSB central staff help schools prepare for emergencies they hope will never happen.
The Safe and Caring Schools Team recently undertook the task of updating the Board’s Threats to School Safety Procedure (PR.695) to provide a better framework to help prepare schools to effectively manage emergencies and to reflect a significant change in the terminology used regarding lockdowns that will be implemented in school boards across the province.
• Hold and Secure - The term Partial Lockdown will be replaced with the term Hold and Secure. Hold and secure means that all movement in and out of the school is restricted, however movement within the school is not restricted and the external danger near the school poses no immediate threat to the students or staff unless they leave the building.
• Lockdown - A lockdown is the most serious response to a threat to school safety and should be used only when the danger is inside the school or on school property and poses an immediate and serious threat to staff and students.
In addition to the revision of the Threats to School Safety Procedure, the Safe and Caring Schools team works to help each school improve their response to potential emergencies. “We want all of our schools to be caring places that are safe for learning,” says System Superintendent of Safe and Caring Schools, Uton Robinson. “One of the ways we can do that is to help each school develop a plan to prepare for what to do in an emergency.”
The TDSB’s Safe and Caring Schools Administrator, Ted Libera leads the team of central staff that is available to schools in emergencies and provides training and guidance to school staff on emergency procedures. Libera says that training and drills are important to ensure plans are effective. “All our schools hold fire and evacuation drills as well as two lockdown practices each school year.”
But the emergency plan that each school develops based on guidelines from his team is the key to emergency preparedness. “The plans include details about what staff will do if there is an emergency, how staff will get students away from possible dangers, and how students’ families will be contacted” says Libera.
Local Safe and Caring Schools Committees made up of staff that works in the schools as well as parents at those schools develop the details of the plans. These committees make lockdown plans, put together information and supplies that are available for use in a school emergency and keep everything up to date.
In any emergency, the TDSB’s most important duty is to keep students and staff safe until the danger or threat is reduced or gone. If public safety officials decide to evacuate a school building, students and staff move to a safe location, as part of the school’s evacuation plan. Sometimes staying in the school is the safest place for children to be. If the school can’t be safely evacuated, the school implements its school lockdown procedure, which includes steps to keep students, staff, and others in the school safe in case there is a serious accident, a violent event, very bad weather conditions or an act of terrorism.
Parents, guardians and others wanting to go in or go out of a locked down school will only be allowed to do so if and when it is safe for the school’s students and staff. It may not be safe, however, until the danger or threat of danger is gone. Having people going in and out of the school during an emergency may increase the danger to children. To keep everyone safe, parents will need to wait to pick up their children if public safety officials say that there is a reason why people cannot enter the school during the emergency.
“Communication is important in any emergency situation,” says Libera. Parents can check the TDSB web site, television and radio for updates during emergency situations. During some lockdowns, a parent information station is set up near the school to keep parents up to date on the details of the lockdown. “One thing we don’t encourage,” notes Libera, “is calling the school during an emergency.” This can tie up phone lines and make it difficult for the staff to use the phones as needed during the emergency.
Each school emergency plan includes steps for returning students to their parents or guardians after an emergency is finished. The emergency contact information card is important in helping this happen. It lists the people who can pick up a student from the school. Parents and students should fill out this card at the beginning of the school year. “Students will only be released to the people listed on their cards,” says Libera, “so it’s important for parents to keep their card information up to date with the school office.”
In addition to school staff, the TDSB also has teams of specially trained workers, such as social workers, guidance counsellors and psychologists, who can support a school going through an emergency or crisis. These school crisis teams are there to support school staff during an emergency.
For more information on what happens in school emergencies, visit the Safe and Caring Schools webpage on the TDSB’s web site.
You may also phone the Safe School and Caring Office in your area of the city:
Adapted from the brochure: What happens in an emergency?