When I returned home from walking the dog that morning my youngest was still at home. Enthusiastic grade 8 student that he is, skipping was out of the question. He had walked to school as usual and was told to go back home by the vice principal. There was a police car in the alley, my son said, blocking access to the school entrance.
I checked the news and my fear was confirmed: there had been a bomb threat at Sahali Secondary, delivered via graffiti inscription. The week before, Valleyview Secondary dealt with the same, though students were able to return to class that morning. Of course, I thought ‘here’s another hoax,’ but could not escape the one that followed soon after…’what if one day the hoax ceases to be just a hoax?’ Could someone be capable of that? Why?
We talked about it over dinner (again, since we had already been over it when the Valleyview threat happened.) Turned it on all possible sides. Both my sons called it a sick joke. It is. There is nothing funny about implying that the safety, and life, of many, could be at risk.
The next day a similar threat was made to the Kamloops Christian School. A youth was taken into custody that same morning. The next day, it was Sahali again. It was less disruptive than the first time, so school went on as usual, though kids were given the option to leave if they wanted to.
Such threats translate into missed school time and a high bill for bringing a specialized canine unit to help locate the possible threat or reassure that none is present.
Then, at the other end is the kind of loss that we fight hard to not let take over: the loss of peace of mind. We send our kids to school assuming they are going to be in a safe space. When that safety is threatened, something is irrevocably lost.
There are now two young people in custody, as a second one was arrested in connection to the Sahali Secondary threats. Parents are angry and want to see some harsh punishment being applied. Fair enough, but tearing someone apart out of anger will not do. We are all going to be watching this with interest, wondering about the appropriate consequence for robbing children and family of that implicit school-related peace of mind; staff too.
If we’re considering the financial cost for the searches that followed each threat, one consequence could be full-time work that will help relieve the taxpayers from footing a bill they did not cause in any way, and would rather not have to think about, ever. There are some good lessons that one can find in hard work; a chance for redemption too, if you will.
Some can argue that being young and immature makes one prone to stupid mistakes. ‘It was only a threat,’ is what some said. A stupid thing, but not real. And yet… we do not want anything like this, no matter how illusory, in our community. No one does. We have been witnessing increased violence across the continent, including in schools, and it’s heartbreaking. No one should joke about that.
Apologies alone will not help anyone understand the seriousness of their behaviour. Not when the well-being of many is at risk. While I believe that people can learn from their mistakes, I also believe that we cannot classify such threats as mistakes. When my boys were little we often talked about the differences between mistakes and willful behaviour. They are not the same. Intention matters, even when it does not materialize into real harm.
Talking to our children, and knowing they talk among themselves (they do) about the wrongness of such threats, and the high cost, financial and otherwise, is what we can do as parents. Also reassure them that there are many whose job is to ensure people’s safety. We can all be grateful for that, and for the way school staff have so far dealt with these challenging situations.
Here’s to hoping they will not be repeated any time soon.