School district debriefs threatening letter incident

School district identifies youth who needed support through the process of investigating threatening letter incident.

A Penticton RCMP vehicle is parked in front of Penticton Secondary School Feb. 23 as police continued to monitor activities at four area schools following the discovery of a threatening letter.

A Penticton RCMP vehicle is parked in front of Penticton Secondary School Feb. 23 as police continued to monitor activities at four area schools following the discovery of a threatening letter.

Operations at local schools are back to normal in the wake of an anonymous letter threatening harm to students found on school grounds last month.

Wendy Hyer, superintendent for the Okanagan Skaha School district, said all the schools in the district are back to normal, with the exception of some of the middle and high schools, which have chosen to keep exterior doors locked during regular school hours.

The letter, threatening harm to students at Penticton and Okanagan Falls schools was found on Feb. 18, sending schools in both school districts into lockdown and prompting RCMP to station officers in each school for several days.

“All in all, it was a really challenging situation with two districts and RCMP working together to try and minimize the impact and the trauma that follows in the wake of something like this,” she said.

The incident caused anxiety for all involved, but Hyer said that although the RCMP have yet to determine the author, some good came out of the incident.

“Out of that process, we were able to identify some youth who needed support in other ways and we were able to get them support they needed,” said Hyer. “That’s one of the positive things that came out of it.”

In addition to the public meeting held Feb. 22 to talk with parents, Hyer said there was also a debriefing session with representatives from the RCMP, Okanagan Skaha and the Okanagan Similkameen School District to discuss how the situation was handled.

That included discussions of sharing emergency plans, like earthquake drills and lockdowns, with parent advisory committees, as well as how to be more proactive with parents

“When the letter was released, it certainly heightened the anxiety of parents,” said Hyer. “A lot of work went into where the letter may have come from. We talked about pros and cons of releasing the letter.”

Hyer also said there was talk about the timing of the RCMP release. In hindsight, she said, it would have been better to release the information about the letter earlier.

“The RCMP sent out a news release with the letter after school hours. That’s when they received approval. It would have been nice if it happened earlier in the school day so we could send information home,” she said.  “In a perfect world the timing could have been better. It would have helped us in communicating with parents.”