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ONTARIO: Parents have had it as Thunder Bay high school receives 14th hoax threat

'Call in the military, like they do in Toronto when they have a snowstorm'

THUNDER BAY – Parents and students at Hammarskjold High School are scared.

They’re angry.

They’re confused.

Most of all, they want answers.

On Tuesday night they gathered, more than 200 crammed into an overcrowded room at the Christ Evangelical Lutheran Church, where they had a chance to vent their frustrations about the recent string of threats against the Clarkson Street school, which has seen students make it through a full day of classes just once in the past eight school days.

“Once or twice, that’s a hoax,” said parent Dave Miskimins, who stood at the back of the room, waiting for his turn at the microphone.

“Fourteen times is domestic terrorism. Why aren’t we calling it that?”

Indeed, the meeting itself was hastily called, a replacement for a planned meeting last Thursday night at Hammarskjold that had to be called off because of yet another threat.

It began with presentation by a counsellor, advising parents to not search out answers on social media and understand their reaction to the situation will influence their children's. But it was the public portion of the meeting that had the biggest impact.

Emotions, which parents and students tried to keep in check, were on full display as dozens spoke up, some questioning the leadership of the school board and police, others making suggestions of how to get to the bottom of things or ways to keep the school open despite the anonymous threats that lately have become a morning ritual for students, staff, parents, police and administration at Lakehead Public Schools.

Tereza Biloski, a mother of a special needs student who attends Hammarskjold High School, made a tearful plea when it was her turn, explaining her son and his friends don’t understand what going on when hold-and-secures or lockdowns are put in place.

“Can you imagine not understanding anything?” she asked, wiping away tears throughout her impassioned speech.

Wendy Luoma has two teens at Hammarskold and also struggled to keep the tears from flowing as she described the first lockdown at the school, her son in gym class met by a SWAT team with guns drawn.

“The SWAT came in with their guns pointed at them and they were up against the wall. My husband was mortified that they’d done that and my son said, ‘No, they needed to scare the heck out of us.’ He said, ‘I saw boys who I’ve never seen rattled shaking. They were scared and the police said, ‘We know the gun is in here,” Luoma said.

“There was no gun, they searched, but it’s a traumatic experience, so the next time they went into hold-and-secure, that’s what they thought about all over again.”

Another parent, who only identified himself as Darryl, said it’s time to get tough.

“Call in the military, like they do in Toronto when they have a snowstorm,” he said.

An angry parent questioned where the board has been throughout the process.

“There’s been very little leadership in my estimate ... Hope is not a plan.”

Parent council chair Cheri Lappage, said the plan moving forward is to take the questions and concerns of parents and students and deliver them to the board administration – who held an emergency meeting of their own on Tuesday night and weren’t at this meeting – trustees and Hammarskjold’s principal.

She also encouraged parents to be vocal in their demands of the board.

“The more people that call and email, the more they’re going to be forced to answer.”

Denise Baxter, the mother of a Hammarskjold student, said this has gone beyond the school community.

“This could happen to any school in Thunder Bay,” she said.

“This is a wake-up call for the community. This is your training ground for if something does happen.”

- Media

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Leith Dunick

About the Author: Leith Dunick

A proud Nova Scotian who has called Thunder Bay home since 2002, Leith is Dougall Media's director of news, but still likes to tell your stories too. Wants his Expos back and to see Neil Young at least one more time. Twitter: @LeithDunick
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