School Threats and the Media

by Tanja-Tiziana Burdi & Caitlin Martella
Oakwood High School
Toronto, Ontario

It's 8:45am on Wednesday morning. As I get closer, I can feel the stares from people driving by, as they watch in disbelief. I enter the school and there is a quietness about the hallways that sends shivers down my spine. After grabbing my books, I shut my locker door and the sound of metal hitting metal echoes down the empty hall. Another student who is passing by jumps at the sound. This wasn't the scene a couple days ago, when Oakwood Collegiate's principal, Tony Kerins came on the P.A. system. He explained the situation as it stood. Someone had written a threatening note on the towel dispenser in the boys' washroom. We were then informed that there would be police patrolling the school all week, and that we should try to continue "business as usual".

I had heard about the threat before his announcement, but the fact that police were involved was a surprise. Regardless, I, along with most of my peers, went about our day as we always do, waved to the officers as they strolled by, and weren't very concerned about the threat. That week was Spirit Week and with all the events that were planned, we were happily distracted.

I considered it a prank and tried to put it behind me, as did many others. After all, we'd heard about threats like this at other schools before, and nothing had ever materialized. We weren't about to let fear ruin our Spirit Week, even though the threat had been directed at Friday's lunch-time talent show.

No fear. That is, until the 6:00 news.

Word got out, and that evening, Oakwood was the top story on every television & radio station. Some called it a "massacre-threat", while others were labeling Oakwood the "next Columbine". A situation that had been under control was now being totally blown out of proportion. Parents started to worry, grandparents and family friends starting phoning (y'know, to see if we were alive and all) and the panic spread.

Now, here I was, a couple days later, sitting in a classroom of only 6 students, discussing the situation at hand because no one could concentrate on actual schoolwork. ‘Business as usual' had ceased to exist.

Article after article, broadcast after broadcast, the facts were being exaggerated and the situation made bigger than it really was. A fairly cut and dry event was being sensationalized.

"It's unfortunate that threats like this are a common occurrence at any school, but now, it's news," said Fallon Butler, 18.

The more news coverage, the more we, the students, become victimized.

"The media is giving this kid exactly what he wants, attention and the fear of students and the community," remarks Rachel Jacobs, 19.

Still, many Oakwood students are more concerned over their school's image, than the threat of violence.

"Our school is, in my opinion, one of the safest high schools in Toronto," commented Andrew Hines, 19, "and unfortunately this isolated incident is giving people a mistaken impression of Oakwood."

Hines' opinion is a common one throughout the student body. Later in the week, when reporters appeared at the school's doorsteps looking for reactions, they didn't get what they expected. Students were more interested in protecting their school's reputation, and many told interviewers to leave Oakwood alone.

But do we feel safe?

"I am distressed that there is somebody in this school community who is so frustrated and disturbed that they would make threats against their peers just to get some attention," said Student Council president, Rachael Bedard. "I am not afraid that they are going to go through with what they wrote, I am just upset that there is such ignorance among members of the student population."

The general feeling is one of caution, but still disbelief.

"It bothers me that someone could think that this kind of prank is funny," admits Hines. "I'm not really worried that any violence will occur, but it's still unsettling, and everyone is a little on edge."

Despite the media attention, Oakwoodites are sticking together. I, like many, refuse to allow myself to become a victim – neither a victim of violence, nor a victim of fear. We are a united school, and if anything, this incident has only brought us closer together.

"These past few days' experiences have reinforced my pride in being an Oakwood student," proclaims Bedard.

We are all proud to be Oakwood students.