By Brenda Branswell, The Gazette
Steve Bletas starts rhyming off the scenes of school shootings in North America when asked what prompted his school board to beef up security.
“I’d be lying to you if I didn’t say Columbine, Dawson, Taber, Virginia Tech,” said Bletas, chairperson of the Sir Wilfrid Laurier School Board.
By September, all the board’s high schools will be equipped with cameras and buzzer systems at front doors where people can be seen on camera, Bletas said.
The board, which has schools in Laval, the Laurentians and Lanaudière regions, is starting to install 100 security cameras in its high schools and adult centres at a cost of about $320,000 – a move Bletas says puts his board at the forefront of the issue.
But it isn’t the only school board trying to bolster security. At the English Montreal School Board, where many schools already had cameras, all 62 youth and adult centres are getting at least two new ones, director-
general Antonio Lacroce said. “There’s no question that safety and security has been a big concern all along,” Lacroce said.
“I think the situation at Dawson simply heightened it and accelerated the process,” he said referring to the 2006 shooting at the downtown CEGEP. One student died in the attack and 20 others were injured.
The EMSB is investing about $1.1 million, which includes security upgrades that will signal whether a door is open.
Staff in the school office will be able to view the camera images, although Lacroce acknowledged their eyes won’t be glued to them. He called it impossible to stop a crazed person, but said he believes the cameras will serve as a deterrent.
“I think what we’re saying is we’re putting into place measures that will increase the safety and security of our children,” Lacroce said.
“We don’t want to create a jail but at the same time we want to make sure that the children feel safe – and that the parents feel that their children are safe.”
“We’re putting in some high-quality stuff, with a buzzer and a speaker at the front door so that not only can we see the people who want to come in, but we can speak with them,” Lacroce said.
Lacroce said they hope schools “piggyback” on the board’s initiative with their own school funds and install a few more cameras.
Viky Keller, a parent commissioner at the EMSB, wishes the new cameras weren’t needed. “But times are so different from when I went to school that unfortunately, it’s a reality,” Keller said.
“I think it makes people feel more comfortable, to know that they can see who is ringing (at the door), who you are going to buzz in.”
The Commission scolaire de Montréal recently set up a committee to study the security camera issue. It is looking at what is being done in its network and elsewhere, CSDM spokesperson Alain Perron said – such as at the Lester B. Pearson School Board.
Two months after the Dawson College tragedy, the Pearson board on the West Island allocated $600,000 to beef up security in its schools. The measures included security cameras, door alarms and buzzer systems, said Viviane Croubalian, the board’s assistant director-general.
Sam Abramovitch, a parent on the governing board at Laurier Senior High School in the Sir Wilfrid Laurier Board, calls the cameras a great idea.
While he thinks the school is safe, Abramovitch said he and other parents “are really concerned with security.”
Even if they aren’t monitored all the time, Abramovitch said: “It’s still a deterrent.”
Compared to high schools, elementary schools are generally “locked down and buttoned up,” said Michael Wiener, head of the Laurier Teachers Union. At the primary schools, people have to ring a bell to be let in and then get a visitor’s badge, Wiener said.
“A high school is a very different beast, because you can have up to two-dozen entrances and exits,” he said.
“I’ve always thought it’s a great thing,” Wiener said of the cameras. But he cautions it could be an invitation to complacency. “So we’re saying that it is not the be-all and the end-all,” he said. “It’s one part of the process.”
In a report to the board, an emergency preparedness consultant said the key to success is deterrence followed by action if necessary. The report said cameras need to be monitored and school officials need to act quickly if a problem arises, which would send the message that “we are watching and we are taking action.”