School Lockdown – blame it on the skunk

Image courtesy of
Image courtesy of


[dropcap]Y[/dropcap]esterday, while ambling 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 voce, 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.

Whitby Shores, Whitby, Ontario

By Aisha Ashraf

An autistic Irish immigrant in a cross-cultural marriage, Aisha Ashraf is the archetypal outlander, writing to root herself through place and perspective. Published in The Rumpus, The Maine Review, River Teeth, HuffPost and elsewhere, her work explores the legacy of trauma, the nature of being an outsider and the narrow confines of belonging. She currently lives in Canada.


  1. These lockdown drills seem remote from the real thing ever happening, but I remember a couple of weeks in 2002 when my kids’ school went into lockdown and classes took place behind closed blinds; there was also police presence at school drop off and pick up time. It was the time of the Washington Sniper – a terrifying three weeks when ten people in our area were randomly killed and three seriously injured, including a thirteen year old walking to school.

    I can’t remember what the school’s story was for the little kids at the time, but I’m pretty sure skunks didn’t come into it! That is so very cute. 🙂

    1. Thanks for your comment Kate. I guess the whole thing can seem OTT, and as a friend pointed out today, by the time something actually kicks off inside a school it’s too late. But, as you illustrated with your recollection of the Washington Sniper(s), random things happen all the time, and at least if we have tried to prepare, hopefully it lessens the inevitable agony of the “what Ifs” afterwards. Luckily the absurdity of the whole skunk thing was lost on J, though I wonder if the other children were as naive.

  2. Excellent article and easy to understand explanation. How do I go about getting permission to post part of the article in my upcoming news letter? Giving proper credit to you the author and link to the site would not be a problem.

  3. This is such an interesting post – thanks. It made me shudder at the thought of the situation while reading, but it’s great to know they have a solution in place to keep the kids safe without terrifying them.

    1. Thanks Emily, it isn’t a pleasant subject to dwell on but having a solid action-plan gives everyone a clear line to follow – something you desperately need in a terrifying situation.

  4. Just over from love new blog – what a really inventive way of teaching safety and protection in the event of something scary happening…… Found you on Love New Blogs!

  5. You are a very talented writer… I couldn’t stop reading! I could relate to this post firstly because I also lived and worked in London for a year (I’m Australian) and during my time was amazed at how two countries speaking the same words, at times, seem to be speaking very different languages. And also, because my daughter’s school (here in Oz) recently had a school lockdown drill “in case one of the dogs from the houses near the school escaped from their yards”. I felt the same as you did… relieved they didn’t tell her too much while still ensuring a “lockdown” strategy was known to all students. Tricky waters to navigate!

    1. Thank you for the compliment Misha! I’m glad you enjoyed the post. It is true what you say – we think moving to another English speaking country in the western hemisphere will not be dissimilar to where we’ve come from….cultureshock is a wake-up call. It’s amazing how differently things are done in various countries. I wonder if, with the technological ability we have now to share everything, countries will eventually become homogeneous…

  6. I have never heard of lockdowns – they sound rather scary but necessary I guess. I wonder if I could have one at home which involves me being inside with the doors locked and come nice chocolates and Papasaurus and the kids out in the garden unable to ask me to do anything – bliss!

  7. Thank you for sharing! My daughter was just explaining to me skunk drills and I’m thinking it was a weird game, lol…… I knew there had to be more to it! So thankful her school does this! (United States School)

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