Hold and Secure



Yesterday, after a shooting downtown left four injured and the gunman still at large, schools in the area took the precaution of adopting a “Hold & Secure.”

I first found out about it when my kids’ school tweeted their status. Just as 9/11 flashes into the collective consciousness whenever a terrorist plot is mentioned, images of Sandy Hook now spring to mind whenever school safety and guns occupy the same sentence. I immediately recalled that morning, standing frozen by the kitchen worktop, whatever I was doing forgotten as I listened to the horror unfold via the newscasts. I guess it’s still raw and immediate in recent memory; it’s only been two months, after all.

Thankfully no such tragedy or loss of life took place here and the order stood for not much longer than ten minutes. Following police advice, things soon returned to normal – much to J’s annoyance, she was looking forward to an indoor recess.

As well as the tweets in real time, the school sent a note home with each child at the end of the day, with information about what occurred, and I got the lowdown from J as we walked back. She told me that all students stayed in their classrooms, the doors were locked and no one was allowed to enter or leave the building. She actually went and asked the principal about it afterwards when he was on playground duty. Curious, I asked her what he said,

“He explained there was a disease in the air in town and the school had to lock all the doors and windows to stop it getting in”

she told me. Satisfied with this explanation, she didn’t ask him anything else. Instead, between bouts of giggles, she went on to confide conspiratorially, that she knew what his first name was – she’d read it on the note.

The school protects parental discretion when it comes telling their children about potentially traumatic events, hence the imaginative explanations. I’ve written previously about the Skunk Lockdown – a practice run for what to do should a skunk get into school that was really a drill for a much more serious possibility.

There are 3 terms used by schools, police and media during situations that impact the safety of students and staff:

Lockdown – Potentially violent situation at the school
Hold and Secure – Safety situation in the neighbourhood, external to the school
Shelter in Place – Potential environmental hazard outside the school eg. gas leak or weather emergency

In any of these situations, communication with parents/caregivers is via numerous avenues – through websites, automated voicemail messages, radio and TV. During an event, phone use between students and parents is restricted – lines are kept free for emergency services.

While it’s scary that these steps are a necessary part of my children’s school life, the gratitude I felt towards the staff when I collected the kids was overwhelming. The awareness, planning and organisation that’s involved gives me massive appreciation for the job they do. After all, there are few things as daunting as being responsible for other people’s children.

Related links:


In the spirit of true sensationalism, media today are referring to the incident as a “mass shooting” – that’ll be good for everyone’s blood pressure then…


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. It’s a weird feeling, that’s for sure. I remember thinking, “Well, K’s in Markham today, so that’s one less person to worry about” His usual office is close by here.

  1. The school is right to lean toward parental discretion in explaining difficult situations to younger children, but the principal absolutely should not have lied about an imaginary disease. Rather than lie, he could have erred on the side of providing less specific information (i.e., ‘it seems there was something going on downtown so we just like to be careful’). School teachers and staff are so dedicated and do an admirable job teaching and keeping our children as safe as possible and out of harm’s way. Glad it was resolved without incident in the schools.

    1. I think teachers are in a difficult situation, often “damned if they do and damned if they don’t.” After ensuring the children’s safety, keeping them calm/unaware of any threat is the next challenge – not easy in an environment of such diverse age range and understanding, where rumours spread quicker than nits!
      As long as the kids emerge safe and not preternaturally perturbed by anything, I have no objections. I don’t know that I would’ve come up with anything any better when put on the spot by a 7-yr-old.

  2. I remember Duck and Cover from when I was a primary school student when adults were concerned with a nuclear holocaust. More innocent times followed when we realized those bomb shelters people dug in their back yards were never going to be used to avoid radioactive fallout. Seems silly now. Gun safety in schools, not so silly.

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