High school under guard as violence threats issued

A number of parents kept their children home from the high school here on Tuesday, and their absence had nothing to do with snow.
Centre Wellington District High School principal Karen Welch took the step of posting warning letters about possible violence at the school between gangs called “Emo’s” and “Jock.” School officials met with students involved and their parents on Dec. 14, but school officials then learned about possible violent acts on Dec. 18 that were written on the washroom walls. Welch said school officials were taking no chances.
She said in her letter on the high school’s website, “On Tuesday, there was a threat and a warning to the school for Dec.18 written on the wall in the boys bathroom. We have been, with the police and our staff, investigating this threat which we are taking very seriously. We have consulted with our director, Dr Martha Rogers, and Superintendent of Schools, Mr David Euale. We have met with the entire staff to debrief and alert them to the concerns.”
Welch said that the problems have been occurring for some time.
In her posted letter, she said, “Over the past couple of weeks, there have been some escalat­ing issues of threats and bully­ing between two groups of students at the school. The terms “Emo’s” and “Jocks” are the labels that the students have used.
“Altercations, name calling, and general harassment have been occurring at school, in the community, and on the internet. These incidents have been ongoing, the students have told us, for a period of time and have now escalated to threats of physical intimidation at the school.
“We have identified several specific incidents with specific students, and suspensions and meetings with parents have occurred. Guidance staff have been involved in working with and providing counselling to both parents and students.
Welch said that police were called to be at the school in force. “In order to ensure that parents and students feel safe on that day, our school community liaison OPP officer, Steve Smith, has assured us that he will have extra support from his fellow officers here on [Dec. 18].”
She added, “We will have our staff on full alert in the halls and cafeteria. Dr. Rogers has indicated that there will also be additional board staff pres­ent to assist us. We will also be asking students to im­mediately alert staff to any con­cerns that they have.
Welch also informed everyone that what has happened at Fergus appears to be endemic across Canada.
“To put this into context, today there was an article on school safety in the Globe and Mail about similar threats happening across the country.
She said, “Our students must feel safe and be safe at school, and we continue to take these issues seriously to ensure that this is the case. If you have any questions or concerns, I am available to speak to you.”
In a second letter, Welch cited a student parent meet­ing called “a ‘restorative justice’ cir­cle.
“The session was very successful in building under­stand­ing and awareness. The sense from the parents and students was that the issues [and concerns] between the groups had been ex­pressed and that further antagonism be­tween the groups was over. The session ended with a letter of understanding being signed by all the parti­cipants.
But, she said, officials had to take the threats seriously.
“As for the threat posted to the school in the boys wash­room for Dec. 18, we are still investigating to determine the source and the actual intent of the message. Constable Steve Smith is continuing to follow up on leads that he has received late today.
She concluded, “We will have four community police liaison officers in the building as well as Fergus OPP and the tactical squad on alert. Additional board staff will be present. Our school council chair will be present as well. School staff will be vigilant and visible in the halls and cafeteria.
‘We do have a significant number of students on field trips and sport teams who will be out of the building for the day. There will be police at the loading areas for the buses in the morning as they leave.
“We will continue to main­tain a high sense of alert for the safety of all of our students. Please continue to contact us with any additional information or concerns that you may have. I have appreciated the calls that we have had from parents. Thank you for your concerns and your caring for our school community.”
Welch referred reporters to the school board public relations officer.
OPP Constable Mark Cloes, at the school, said the episode that day was “a non event.”