On September 23, 2014, Toronto high school student Hamid Aminzada died after being stabbed at North Albion Collegiate Institute. Police said Hamid was stabbed while trying to intervene in a dispute between two students in the school’s hallway. After Hamid’s tragic death, the Toronto District School Board (the “Board”) established a steering team (the “Team”), including educators, experts in community engagement and security specialists, to conduct an independent review into the circumstances surrounding Hamid’s death and to review more generally how the Board can best support the safety of all students and staff, both before and after critical incidents. The Team published its report in March 2015 entitled School Safety and Engaged Communities (the “Report”).1
The Report summarized the circumstances relating to Hamid Aminzada’s death as follows:
On September 23rd of 2014, at about 12:30 p.m., the lunch hour at North Albion Collegiate Institue (NACI) had just ended and students were beginning to move to their classes.
On the main floor of the school near the auditorium, two students became involved in an altercation. The suspect of the incident allegedly pulled out a knife and stabbed Hamid Aminzada, a grade 12 full time student at NACI, in the chest despite other students and cameras being present.
Hamid walked a short distance down the hallway before collapsing where he was attended by several students on the scene. The suspect fled the school while another student ran to the office for help. Two members of the administrative team and several other staff members rushed to the scene.
Upon receiving notice of the incident, staff called 9.1.1. at 12:40 p.m., and the school was placed in lockdown pursuant to the Ministry of Education’s (MOE) and the Toronto District School Board’s school safety protocols. Toronto Police Service (TPS), Toronto Fire Service (TFS) and Emergency Medical Services (EMS) responded quickly and attended to Hamid who was transported to hospital where he succumbed to his injuries that afternoon.
After it was verified that the suspect was no longer in the building, the lockdown at NACI was systematically lifted by the police. Witnesses were secured at the school and interviewed by police. This resulted in the suspect being identified, arrested, charged with Second Degree murder and placed before the courts.
The Team consulted over 500 people, held two public community forums and received over 35 written submissions from staff and members of the public. The Team reviewed the facts surrounding the altercation which lead to Hamid’s death, including the circumstances relating to the tragic event and the system response. It also reviewed whether effective crisis response procedures were already in place to assist staff in their response and whether, in responding to the incident, there was effective cooperation between Board staff and other stakeholders, such as parents, police, paramedics, the media and other agencies.
Generally, the Team was satisfied with the response to the incident. The Report concluded that those who were present at the school at the time of the incident reported that the crisis was, for the most part, handled well. Staff and emergency services responded quickly to attend to Hamid and place the school in “lockdown”. Nonetheless, the Team made several recommendations for action in the following four areas:
- Crisis Response;
- Caring and Safe Environments;
- Policies, Procedures and Practices for Safety in Schools; and
- Community Engagement and Support.
The Team supported the response of school staff alongside emergency services personnel. The Team highlighted, however, that there were a number of issues related to communication during the school lockdown. In particular, the Report recommended that the Board transition its crisis response teams to Emergency Management Response Teams in order to ensure enhanced emergency management procedures.
The Report also raised concerns regarding long-term support for students and staff to help deal with the emotional impact of the incident and the need for debriefings with feedback from Emergency Services following both drills and actual lockdowns. These recommendations point to the Team’s emphasis on the need for the response to such an incident to endure beyond its immediate aftermath and the need to continue to ensure that adequate supports and procedures are in place over the long-term.
Caring and Safe Environments
The Team emphasized that safe schools require more than security cameras. They also require an environment that encourages healthy and respectful relationships. Students and staff pointed to a greater need for peer mentoring, support for students with mental health issues and extended transitional support for students who are non-discretionary, administrative transfers.
The Report also states that a safe environment is supported by the physical condition in which students learn. The Report concluded that an assessment of repairs and maintenance should be undertaken in a prompt and timely manner.
Policies, Procedures and Practices for Safety in Schools
The Team’s recommendations in the Report highlight the well-rounded approach that the Team concluded was needed in order to ensure safe, clean, nurturing and stimulating environments for students. The Report also emphasized the need for more traditional security measures to be taken in schools. The Team did not endorse the use of metal detectors. However, the Team did recommend manually locking doors at the start of a school day, instituting electronic access controls, and an ongoing maintenance program for existing CCTV or DVR surveillance systems.
Notably, the Report recommended the Board should review and revise its Workplace Violence policy, under the Occupational Health and Safety Act,to “clarify the information to be shared about a student or employee who is likely to pose a threat of harm to another student or employee in the workplace”. Training on the policy, as well as supporting procedures on receiving, disseminating and storing such information was also recommended.
The Report highlighted that the Board “is one of the few boards in Ontario that does not have regular supervision duties scheduled into teacher timetables.” As such, the Team recommended that supervisory duties be included in the 2015 collective bargaining process with the goal of increasing the supervision duties of secondary school teachers.
Community Engagement and Support
The Report emphasized the need for students, families, schools, social services, and secular and faith based agencies to collaborate to create safe environments for students. The Team encouraged greater collaboration between the Board and community service providers to ensure that limited resources are maximized. This includes collaboration between the Board, the City of Toronto, the Toronto Police Service and the Toronto Youth Equity Strategy.
The recommendations put forth in the Report cover a variety of issues impacting safety in schools in Toronto and across Ontario. The recommendations, if implemented, will affect students, teachers, school administrators and members of the community at large.
Some concerns have been raised in response to the Report, such as the view that the Report did not adequately address the broader systemic issues that contribute to violence in schools or that many of the recommendations have been heard before without being successfully implemented.2
In order for the Board to move forward with any recommendations in the Report, further resources and participation of third parties will be necessary. In fact, several of the recommendations cannot be implemented on the initiative of the Board alone. For example, the Report asks for compromises during the 2015 collective bargaining process, cooperation from Emergency Services and collaboration with community agencies. The Report has recommended that an external team conduct an audit of progress on the recommendations after a period of nine to twelve months.