Toronto high schools may be due to start locking their doors more often, the way elementary schools already do, according to a new report inspired by the stabbing death of a student last September.
Hamid Aminzada, 19, was killed when trying to break up a fight between two other students at North Albion Collegiate Institute in Rexdale. After asking for a report into school safety, the Toronto District School Board heard Wednesday that it should consider tightening the controls on secondary school visitors, and should research new electronic locking systems that would allow faster school-wide lockdowns.
The report was presented to a TDSB committee and will go before the full board next week.
At Toronto elementary schools, all doors are generally locked after the start of the school day. Visitors can ask to be admitted through a buzzer at one main door, which has a camera trained on it so school staff can watch from inside.
At high schools, the doors are left unlocked all day.
"There are no controls," Kim Carr, one of the report's co-authors, told the committee.
Mr. Carr is an executive at private security firm Executek International, whose president is former Toronto Police Service deputy chief Kim Derry. Both men contributed to the report, along with three others.
The group interviewed hundreds of people, including students. They heard that students generally feel safe at school. However, aside from the new locking policy, they also recommended research into bigger investments, including more cameras.
Mr. Carr said students reported liking camera surveillance at school, saying it made them feel safe, and that they tended to be more aware of lockdown procedures than adults.
"They've lived through it, they've grown up with it, they're a part of it," he said.
The report also advised the TDSB to look at installing an electronic system in each school that would allow all exterior doors to be locked from one central point in an emergency, or even remotely.
"You could have anywhere from eight to 12, maybe more, doors, and there's no way to lock those doors in most schools except for somebody to go around at a time when they really should be securing themselves in a place and being safe," said Karen Forbes, a former TDSB executive superintendent who helped author the report.
Another change could be to install locking devices on the inside of classroom doors, so that during a lockdown teachers wouldn't need to reach into the hallway to lock doors from the outside.
The report also delved into students' lives outside school and what social services could help tackle violence.
But they heard that students who bring weapons to school, including knives, aren't intending to use them there. Some students feel they need protection while walking there and back, and they said they have nowhere to stash a knife during class.
"I don't have it for school," Mr. Carr said he heard from students who spoke openly about their weapons. Teachers talked about knowing of the same habit, said Ms. Forbes.
No Toronto schools have metal detectors because they're very expensive and considered ineffective for several reasons, said a TDSB spokesman.
Some trustees said they were already in favour of some of the recommendations. Asking high schools to lock up the same way as elementary schools seemed like an easy way to increase security, said Michael Ford, who represents North Albion Collegiate Institute.
"There's no reason for someone to come in through a side door and walk through a school and walk out," he said.
"It could also be an initiative to keep them in class, if they had any other ideas."
Board Chair Shaun Chen said the locking system, if it's adopted, may have to be tweaked for high schools.
"Students might have spare periods, they sometimes go out for lunch and come back," he said.
He said it was too early to know the cost of the other proposals, but that it was important to keep in mind that the security fixes would be partial solutions.
"I believe that where we can better the system, we should, but the larger issue is how do we tackle the underlying causes of youth violence."