TORONTO - Premier Dalton McGuinty announced Thursday there would be a "locked door" policy at all 4,000 elementary schools in Ontario by next September in reaction to last week's shooting rampage that left 26 dead at a school in Newtown, Connecticut.
"In the aftermath of that tragic event that unfolded in the U.S. I think there’s an important question that we need to ask ourselves: are we taking all reasonable steps to ensure the safety of our kids at school," McGuinty said at St. Fidelis Catholic Elementary School in Toronto.
"I think the response to that question requires that we assure parents that all of our elementary schools are locked during the day, that we are controlling access into our elementary schools, so we’re going to put a locked door policy in place."
The Opposition said all parents would support initiatives to make schools safer for their kids, but questioned the timing of McGuinty's announcement. The Tories suggested McGuinty was simply trying to change the channel from his government's ongoing fights with public school teachers over wage freeze legislation, which prompted rotating one-day strikes in elementary schools this month.
"I think that the timing, obviously, would lead one to believe that this is a cynical move by Mr. McGuinty," said Progressive Conservative education critic Lisa MacLeod.
"He used his final pre-Christmas media availability to talk about this when I think the issue that is really pressing on Ontario families’ minds right now is the labour strife in our schools and whether or not extracurriculars are going to go on and whether or not there are going to be strikes in January."
The New Democrats said the locked door policy was a good first step but said safety was more than just about locking school doors.
"It's about providing adequate supervision, access to mental health services and strong links to communities," said NDP education critic Peter Tabuns.
"Unfortunately under the McGuinty government, funding for safe school programs and community linkages were cut in the last budget."
Only about 850 elementary schools in the province took advantage of a government program to install video cameras outside school doors, but that was meant for buildings where the entrance was not in clear view of the office. It's time to expand that program to all elementary schools, at a cost of about $10 million, said McGuinty.
"Now we can’t, and neither would we attempt to turn our elementary schools into fortresses," he said.
"We’re not going to brick up these windows, but I believe there is a reasonable expectation on the part of parents that when their kids go to school in Ontario, that we will have a locked door policy in place."
Veteran Conservative Frank Klees said he couldn't understand why McGuinty didn't also address the unsafe conditions for kids in high schools, where teachers working to rule aren't taking attendance, and in some elementary schools where buildings were kept open during the rotating one-day strikes but students were not supervised.
"How can we tell parents that the schools are not assuming responsibility for student safety? It seems bizarre to me," Klees said in an interview.
"If you're not taking attendance, how can you tell where the students are?"
Twenty Grade One students and six adults were killed at an elementary school in Newtown, Conn., last Friday by a young man who fatally shot himself when police arrived at the scene.
Every Ontario school board is required to have a local police-school board protocol, which requires they have a lockdown plan in place that is practised at least twice a year. The government has arranged for professional development and training for school and board staff and local police services to implement the protocol at both the elementary and secondary levels.
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