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Northwestern Ontario school board deals with series of anonymous threats

A northwestern Ontario school board has received a series of threats, causing it to post school work online for students. The Canadian Press/Francis Vachon

A school board in northwestern Ontario grappling with a string of anonymous threats has started posting school work online so students won’t fall behind as a result of the disruption.

A spokesman for Lakehead Public Schools in Thunder Bay, Ont., says the board is also working with social workers and mental health staff to ensure students receive support.

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Bruce Nugent says 13 anonymous threats have been received by police since mid-February, including one today. Most of them have targeted one institution, Hammarskjold High School.

He says in 11 cases, the threats led to a school closure, with nearby schools often temporarily placed in a hold-and-secure as a precaution.

The remaining two incidents prompted lockdowns or hold-and-secures.

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Nugent says the threats have affected the school board’s operations, as well as parents and the community at large.

“This is completely uncharted territory for us and I think anybody else,” he said Monday.

“It’s impossible for us to do any type of planning, whether it be long term or short term. Every day, this is what we deal with lately.”

Local and provincial police are investigating the threats, which they said are coming in through the Crime Stoppers tip system and involve warnings about suspicious packages and school shootings.

WATCH: Brock University officials respond to student criticism over handling of safety threat

Click to play video: 'Brock University officials respond to student criticism over handling of safety threat' Brock University officials respond to student criticism over handling of safety threat
Brock University officials respond to student criticism over handling of safety threat – Mar 22, 2019

Some have urged investigators to view the threats as a hoax but police have to treat each one seriously, said Thunder Bay police Det.-Insp. Ryan Hughes.

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“If we ever did that and one of the threats was real and there was a shooting in the school, I wouldn’t want to be involved with that,” Hughes said.

For now, the incidents are being investigated as public mischief in the form of misleading police with a false investigation, he said.

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The investigation is taking up massive amounts of police resources and pulling officers from other cases, Hughes said.

At the same time, officers can’t share details of the probe, which is exacerbating parents’ frustration, he said.

“(They’re) wondering what we’re doing and the thing is, we can’t discuss a lot of what we’re doing because if we have leads that we’re following up, we don’t want to scare off the person that’s doing it,” he said.

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The school board, meanwhile, can’t do anything to prevent or predict the threats – it can only respond to them, Nugent said.

“The thing we can do as a board is that we can ensure that our students and staff are safe…because that’s really the only thing that we can do.”

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