A number of Agassiz parents kept their kids home from school Oct. 31 in the wake of an alleged firearm incident at Agassiz Elementary Secondary School (AESS), but principal Patsy Graham said the school is completely safe.
Comments in an Agassiz Facebook group told the story of students coming to their parents with concerns about an AESS student who had allegedly brought a gun to school.
But Graham’s public statement said the incident occurred two weeks prior after a student was seen holding what appeared to be a firearm on the front lawn of AESS. RCMP were called immediately.
She said RCMP found that the gun was in fact a BB gun “that looked real.” Police then visited the student’s home and determined there “was no intent or threat” of harm.
Graham told the Observer that at that time, the situation was not communicated to parents at the suggestion of RCMP, who called it an isolated incident.
“It was a situation where a student made an unfortunate mistake but there was no intent and no concern for anybody’s safety,” Graham said, adding that AESS tries to be communicative with parents in most situations.
“This was not a circumstance where letters were going to help the situation, as advised by the police,” she said.
A Facebook post from Seabird Island Band reinforced the statement from AESS, stating “inaccurate information has led to rumours, gossip and harm to the family.”
Along with meetings and briefings about the situation with grade 9 students, Graham said both lockers and student behaviour have been under constant supervision and students have been told to come to the school’s administration immediately with any concerns.
A phone call from a parent on Oct. 26 caused a second investigation. It is likely that this phone call came from Lisa Tereposky, who says she called after her son told her he had concerns about his safety and wanted to be picked up.
Students were sent back from lunch early so the school could investigate, but the principal states no threat was found or determined.
In the following days, information spread – according to AESS, not all of it factual – and incited real fear in both parents and students.
“We recognize there has been concern expressed on social media, however it has not been based on what we know to be the facts,” Graham’s statement reads.
“The RCMP have been involved since the beginning, informing the school of their findings. We have been diligent on ensuring our staff members and students are safe.”
Graham said every incident or concern brought to the school is thoroughly investigated. She also raised concerns about the student in question, who she emphasized, regrets their actions and is not a threat to the school.
Since the original incident, Graham said there has been a number of rumours, but stated, “social media is not the format that our school will communicate with parents.”
School District 78 Fraser Cascade declined to respond directly to questions about threat evaluation and parent communication, but superintendent Karen Nelson emailed a statement to the Observer that said school principals, in consultation with RCMP, make decisions about communicating incidents to parents. When deemed necessary, SD78 staff are also consulted, she said.
Asked whether – in the wake of the Oct. 31 incident – SD78 will reconsider policy surrounding parent and guardian communication, Nelson stated: “We will continue to encourage parents to report concerns of student safety to the school-based administration and if necessary to District administration.”
However, asked about mitigating misinformation, Nelson stated: “We are committed to ensuring the safety and well-being of students and staff. Therefore, it is of the utmost importance that accurate and thoughtful information is communicated at all times.”