SD8 psychologist: ‘A school is not an island’

School board talks violence risk threat assessment following Mt. Sentinel grad cancellation.

District psychologist Todd Kettner (right) is part of the inter-agency team prepared to deal with potential mental health crises in the district. He made a presentation alongside director Ben Eaton at Tuesday evening’s school board meeting.

What needs to happen when students threaten to harm themselves or others?

That’s a question the Kootenay Lake school district has been asking itself for years as it develops a collaborative, inter-agency approach to potential crises.

And earlier this year they put their violence threat risk assessment (VTRA) plan into action for the first time.

“Tonight is a celebration,” director Ben Eaton told the school board on Tuesday, as along with district psychologist Todd Kettner he described how the district responded to a threat from a Mount Sentinel student earlier this year.

Ultimately nobody was hurt, but grad was temporarily postponed.

“Part of the VTRA planning is that’s it’s evolving. It started as an anti-bullying strategy but it’s become so much more. You’re going to see an increased interest in mental health, and mental health First Aid strategies.”

The plans calls for staff to work towards creating a positive culture and climate on school grounds, and teachers and staff need to be ready to communicate with police, mental health services and other supports before things get out of hand.

That’s something they believe Mount Sentinel did well, but they can’t rest on their laurels.

“We’ve been inoculated, but we need to continue to work at this.”

Eaton first heard news of the situation from Mount Sentinel’s principal Glenn Campbell.

He immediately made a call that activated a provincial response, with Nelson Police, RCMP, mental health services and provincial experts all coming together for a teleconference call.

Provincial experts such as Teresa Campbell of Safer Schools Together were included, and ultimately federal agencies were even informed.

“We wanted to show you how quickly it begins,” Eaton said.

“This reached the top. I feel reassured we were able to respond in the way we did and that we can continue to do so.”

And according to Kettner, things went according to plan—though there were a lot of variables.

“You plan as best you can for scenarios and what ifs, and we train with our community partners. But then it happens and it’s a fluid situation,” he said.

“It’s less of a set play, and more you know who your teammates are on the field and what the goal is.”

“How you get there is an ongoing process.”

Not every VTRA response involves radical intervention. The goal is to identify problematic behaviour beforehand and ensure students have a solid social infrastructure consisting of trusted adults.

Eaton and Kettner recently met with principals across the district to explain how the Mount Sentinel situation played out and to plan for any future scenarios.

“We’ve also had two of our staff, Jeff Yasinchuk and Danny Leeming, receive digital training so they can gather social media information and see if there are any further cases or anything we should be aware of,” said Eaton.

Board chair Lenora Trenaman thanked them for taking the time to explain the plan.

“Knowing we have this team in place is very comforting.”

And everyone needs to work together.

“A school is not an island, especially not in a situation like this,” said Kettner. “Training and collaboration is critical.”

To end the presentation, Eaton shared a picture of graduation.

“I’ll leave you with this: a truly amazing night.”

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