This story was updated on Dec. 7 to include a comment from Halifax Regional Centre for Education
Halifax-area parents are angry about the way they were notified of a school lockdown.
On Monday, at 8:40 a.m., Halifax West High School tweeted a warning, asking people to “avoid school for now” due to “an ongoing situation.”
Hannah Munday, a parent at the school, said her 16-year-old son left to catch the bus at 8:35 a.m. She didn’t see the tweet until 8:45 a.m.
We are currently dealing with an ongoing situation at the school. Please remain home until further notice. If en route, please avoid school for now
— Halifax West High School (@HalifaxWestHS) December 6, 2021
“It was too late for me to catch him at the bus stop to try and bring him back. Because what the initial tweet said was, don’t come to school,” said Munday.
Munday questioned the choice of social media, rather than a call or email, to notify parents.
“It just felt like a really irresponsible way to use social media because it scared the bejesus out of everybody. And we still don’t really know what happened,” Munday said.
“You know, there were a couple of parents on Twitter who said they dropped their kids off during the period when those tweets went out because of course, the parents were behind the wheel of a car. They’re not checking Twitter at that point.”
I AM PARKED OUTSIDE AND DROPPED MY DAUGHTER OFF. the doors were open and WE. GOT. A . TWEET.
seriously. She is in the library and petrified as no one is telling her anything.
— Nic ⚓ (@LilAysMudder) December 6, 2021
Sherry Osborne said her husband had just dropped her daughter off when he noticed police cars at the school.
“We found out that there was something going on, but we had no idea what until I went looking for it,” said Osborne.
Osborne said once she found the tweet, she messaged her daughter to check in. Her daughter hadn’t been told anything officially, having to rely instead on the student rumour mill.
“It’s frightening to find out that there’s something going on, that you wouldn’t have known about if you didn’t go and check social media,” said Osborne.
At 8:47 a.m. Halifax West tweeted again, now telling parents the “situation has been addressed.”
“School is safe and our day can proceed according to schedule,” the tweet said.
Parents said there were no other notifications sent out at the time, despite the fact that the school has used other means of communication in the past.
“We know they have all of our cellphone numbers and can send us automated telephone calls because we get one from the principal every Sunday evening,” said Munday.
In an email sent to families of Halifax West at 11:05 a.m, three hours after their tweets, principal Brad McGowan told parents Halifax Regional Police had asked that the school be locked down.
“As the start to our day approached, there had not yet been confirmation that there was no threat; HRP then advised that we ask students to remain home until they were able to confirm that the situation was safe,” McGowan wrote.
“HRP declared the situation safe just before the start of our day and after making the community aware that the situation was resolved, we began our day without incident.”
Osborne didn’t get the email, and said it made her feel even more “out of the loop.”
“For a fact, they do have my correct email address because I get regular emails from the band teacher letting us know updates on the band,” said Osborne.
Munday said the problem isn’t that Twitter was used to notify parents, it’s that it was the only method used.
She said if Nova Scotians learned anything from the Portapique shootings, “it’s that you can’t put notices of imminent harm or threat on Twitter and expect people to see them.”
“If it’s serious enough that we need to be told that our children should not be going to school, then we need to be told in as many ways as possible so that everybody gets that message.”
Munday said that this is an institutional problem that goes beyond the school system.
“Because it seems to be the trend that these government departments and these institutions will put out a tweet and then dust their hands off and say, ‘There we’ve done our bit, now we’ve communicated,’” said Munday.
“And the fact that none of these institutions seem to be learning; that is a real problem.”
The Signal asked Halifax Regional Centre for Education spokesperson Doug Hadley for comment, but had not heard back by 4 p.m. on Monday.
On Tuesday, Hadley said in an email that Halifax West was preparing to send out a school-wide notice when HRP confirmed that the situation was resolved.
The school sent out a second tweet saying the matter was resolved, and “once they had more details, they sent an email message to all families explaining what had occurred,” Hadley said.
“We recognize this was a concerning way for students, staff and families to start the day, but as always our first priority is to ensure the safety of our students and staff.”
About the author
Cameron is a 4th-year journalism student from Innisfil, Ontario, and has lived in Halifax since 2017. He works as the Head of Broadcast for the...