After a number of incidents this fall, the Kamloops-Thompson School District decided it was time to refresh their violence threat risk assessment (VTRA) protocol, which works to address potential threats in schools and communities.
Today (Dec. 10), they brought together the five organizations that work with the district to identify students who may be on a path toward violence and help intervene in order to decrease the risk to themselves and others.
Representatives from the Ministry of Children and Family Development, Kamloops RCMP, Kamloops Fire Rescue, Lii Michif Otipemisiwak Family and Community Services and Secwépemc Child and Family Services all came to the SD 73 school board office to sign an agreement declaring their continued commitment to the VTRA protocol.
"We've had a VTRA protocol for a number of years. This agreement is refreshed and revised based on best practices and we have people from a myriad of agencies who have turned over, so it was really important that we bring together all the leadership in the Kamloops area to determine the best way forward," says superintendent Alison Sidow. "We're very pleased that everybody has agreed to sign on and work closely together to ensure the safety of our schools, our students and our community."
There were six threats directed toward local schools this September, resulting in two arrests.
"September was a challenging month for all of us, but we worked through that," says Supt. Syd Lecky. "(The threats) are very demanding — well any investigation can be challenging these days — but with social media being what it is today, that's had the biggest impact. Messages can be sent instantly and they're far-reaching. That will generate a response that they (the poster) often don't know, or even expect to be coming."
Sidow says part of what prompted the desire to refresh the VTRA protocol was school violence that is happening in other parts of the world, particularly in the U.S.
"We've been very fortunate in our area and in particular, British Columbia, as we have not seen the kinds of violence like other places in North America. But we have also taken a very proactive approach, working with Safer Schools and our agencies to put together protocols that are research-based, evidence-based; that we know are very effective in addressing problems before any kind of concerning behaviour is executed," says Sidow.
The VTRA protocol allows these community organizations to share confidential information about a student if it is deemed that there is a reason to be concerned that they are a risk. The agencies will then work together to determine the best way to provide support to the person to assist them. However, student data is not shared lightly.
"All of our agencies have thresholds, but when the public interest is at stake, then protocols like this do enable us to share information at a level we might not normally," says Sidow. "However, we still are all bound by the Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act and we are all very cognizant of that as well."
Trish Smillie has been managing the protocol as the safe schools coordinator but is moving to assistant superintendent this January, so Vessy Mochikas will take over the role.
"We work with students, we work with young people and young people always make mistakes. There's always going to be more work to do and more education," says Mochikas.
"I think our relationships, not only with this group but with Safer Schools, is working. When we have any concern, the whole team's mentality of our district and community partners is, 'Let's have conversations and share information so we make sure we're being preventative as much as possible.' Sometimes things come our way that we didn't know about and the strength of those relationships allow us to have conversations to provide wraparound and connect with each other about what is going on for our learners."
Another reason that today's event was held was to remind families and the public that they have a role to play too.
"What we need is for people to be coming forward if they notice behaviour or a change in a young person's behaviour that may be worrisome or concerning. We often get reports from homes from people who have identified a youth who is really challenged and struggling and maybe thinking about being violent towards themselves or towards others. Those are often called in and as soon as they are, we put our VTRA protocol into place and we're very successful getting those people help and ensuring our schools are safe," says Sidow.
For more information, you can contact the school board at 250-374-0679.