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Yesterday, while ambling slowly back from school, J and I were having our usual conversation about how her day went. It transpired that they had a sort of silent fire drill. I probed her for details.

She explained to me they were practising what to do if a skunk got into the school. This immediately had me intrigued and I asked for more information. The children are taught to turn off all the lights and hide behind the teacher’s desk. “Hmmmm, must be some odd Canadian school regulation,” I mused, reminded again of the differences between Canada and Britain. We don’t have skunks in Britain but I was under the impression that although they have the propensity to be VERY smelly, they weren’t particularly dangerous on the Scale Of Dangerous Canadian Animals I had formulated in my head. Bears, yes. Coyotes, yes, but skunks? Maybe there’s something I’m missing about skunks – I shook my head in puzzlement.

I gave up trying to figure this one out alone. “What’s so bad about skunks?” I asked J. “Well, the smell is really bad and you don’t want to get it on you. We have to shut the doors and draw the curtains” She added helpfully.

Ok, now I was properly flummoxed! How did closing the curtains help? She couldn’t answer that one but did say they had to try to stop the skunk smell getting on all the school books and paper and things.I made a mental note: ask the teacher about Skunk Drill.

A couple of hours later we were back at school for Meet The Teacher, and I asked J’s new Grade 1 teacher about the skunk conundrum. She smiled and nodded knowingly, as though she had already anticipated this question. Sotto voice, she explained that’s what they tell the younger classes when they’re practising a school lockdown. Momentarily thrown, I was about to ask “In case of what?” before my brain kicked in with a collage of TV clips and newspaper reports about crazed gunmen or murderous students running amok – Columbine, schools in Toronto that have been locked down following a shooting or report of a weapon, Marc Lepine in Montreal, the book”We Need To Talk About Kevin” by Lionel Shriver. I also recalled incidents in the UK, among them, Thomas Hamilton‘s attack on a school in Dunblane. Is there a similar procedure for schools to follow in Britain? I don’t think so. Outer doors are now kept locked and admittance is supervised, in the wake of the Dunblane tragedy.

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A lockdown is imposed in the event of a major incident or threat of violence within the school or in relation to the school. J’s teacher explained that the idea is to make the classroom appear empty and to keep the children out of sight-lines, hence the lights off and curtains drawn. You can have a look at the Lockdown Guidelines for schools in Ontario here. It’s quite comprehensive and a fascinating read, I suppose because someone has had to put themselves in the position of an armed aggressor and make a contingency for every move that person might try to make. An unpleasant task but one I’m glad was undertaken. Although my initial reaction was a sick feeling in my stomach, (no-one likes to visualise this) I’m glad a procedure is in place to try to protect the children. It’s more reassuring to think that in the event of an incident, everyone would know what they need to do to stay safe, not running around panicking.

You discover so many differences when you move from one country to another. People have different ideas about implementing ways to make the world around them better and safer. I love discovering and learning about these alternative perspectives, it adds more pieces to the jigsaw puzzle that is my world-view.