By Tina Comeau
The province’s minister of education says schools in Nova Scotia are safe places for students and staff, but still, the province will see if there are lessons to be learned to further enhance safety given the recent tragedy that unfolded at an elementary school in Newtown, Connecticut.
However, Ramona Jennex says the department will wait for a final report from the Sandy Hook school shooting – in which 20 children and six adults lost their lives – before conducting its own review. This, she said, is so the department can benefit from all of the information that is gathered.
“It’s horrific. We’re overwhelmed . . . But when we final get the final report we’ll certainly look at it to see if there is anything we can do to enhance security,” said Jennex. “But we do have safe schools in Nova Scotia.”
Jennex, like so many people around the world, was heartbroken by what unfolded at the elementary school on Friday, Dec. 14. She said as students and staff returned to schools in Nova Scotia on Monday, Dec. 17, her concern was with the feelings and emotions that students and staff may have and “supporting them emotionally” if need be. She said the world had been touched and affected by what occurred in Newtown.
There were discussions between the department and school board superintendents over the weekend and Jennex touched base with many principals on Monday morning. She added that school counsellors were prepared to talk with students who may be having difficulty dealing with their feelings, and some school boards were offering information on how parents can talk with their children and answer questions they may have.
Just as they practise fire drills, all schools in Nova Scotia also practise lock-down drills during the school year.
“All of our schools have a response, for a number of situations, be it fire or an intruder or any kind of safety issue,” Jennex said.
“We have standard guidelines and we have very robust . . . very good guidelines,” she added, noting RCMP Constable Mark Young also serves as the province’s school safety officer. He visits all schools in the province and meets with principals to make sure school buildings are as secure as they can be.
Jennex said all new schools being built in the province are being designed and constructed with safety at the forefront. She pointed to the Yarmouth high school built on Forest Street as an example of this. Jennex was at the school on Monday, Dec. 17, for the school’s official opening.
“If you do a walk around the school you’ll notice that the secretaries and anyone in the office can see everyone entering and exiting. This is a secure building and you need to be buzzed in and out,” she said. “And also the sight lines, you can see from one end of the hallway to the other with no blind spots, so schools are being built with safety measures in place, that’s the number one priority, making sure our schools are safe.”
However asked about older schools in the province where administrative offices can often be found on the second floor of the building, Jennex said if/when renovations are made to these older buildings one of the changes being made is relocating the offices.
Schools also keep doors locked from the outside during the day as a safety measure.
“So even though parents might come and go very early in the morning and in the afternoon, if you came at another time you may find that you can’t get in the building, you’d have to be buzzed in or brought in,” she said.
Jennex said the education department and school boards strive to make safety their top priority.
“When we hear these tragic and horrific events, of course we're all concerned. It’s been a horrible few days for the people affected by the tragedy in Connecticut and Newtown . . . It’s on our minds," she said.
“I am comforted and assured that schools in Nova Scotia are safe,” Jennex said. “They are safe places for our students to be in.”