Schools thought Christchurch terror attacks lockdown order was a hoax

9:43 pm on 19 August 2019

Schools and early childhood centres thought a police order to go into lockdown during the 15 March Christchurch terror attacks was a hoax, a review of the process that closed 221 Canterbury schools and early learning centres says.

classroom school students desks pupils

Photo: Unsplash / Ruben Rodriguez

The KPMG report said schools and early learning centres from Waimakariri to Ashburton locked their doors and prevented children and staff from leaving for periods ranging from less than an hour to three or four hours.

It said a quarter of the organisations did not have adequate food and water and a quarter said they did not have access to adequate toileting facilities, with children forced to use rubbish bins as toilets or "commando crawl" to bathrooms.

Some schools also faced angry parents who wanted to take their children home and the report said the ministry could consider clarifying whether schools could legally refuse to let parents take their children.

The report said some schools and early childhood centres worried they were vulnerable in buildings with large windows and no curtains, especially recently-built classrooms, and some rooms did not have doors that could be locked.

Lockdown thought to be a hoax

The report said police had trouble contacting previously-identified contacts at the Education Ministry on 15 March so they began calling schools and early childhood centres themselves to order them to go into lockdown.

A timeline showed this began 20 minutes after the first shootings at 1.40pm.

The ministry sent an email to all schools and early childhood centres at 2.25pm, again at 2.32pm and began calling schools and early childhood centres at 2.45pm.

The report said some schools thought the police calls were a hoax.

"The perception of a potential hoax was accentuated at some schools where the NZ Police requested they contact other schools to inform them to go into lockdown.

"A small number of schools that were in contact with the NZ Police and the ministry received conflicting advice i.e. on whether children and young people could be released, which resulted in confusion.

"Concerns were also raised as to why schools in close proximity to the events were contacted by the NZ Police but a number of early learning services in similar or closer proximity were not."

The ministry formally advised schools and early childhood centres that the lockdown was over at 5.45pm.

The report said the ministry's communication to schools and early childhood centres was "largely effective", as were most schools and early learning services' lockdown policies and procedures.

However, of 301 schools and early learning services surveyed for the report, 42 percent said the ministry's communication mechanisms were ineffective and 30 percent said the quality of information was poor.

The ministry said it was introducing a new emergency notification system that would allow it to contact schools and early childhood services in a particular region via mobile phone.

The report did not provide a definitive answer as to whether schools could turn away parents who wanted to collect their children during a lockdown.

Aggressive parents

RNZ reported earlier this year that some parents defied the lock down order to take their children out of school and in some instances they were aggressive and threatened school staff.

The report said "a minority of parents demonstrated more challenging behaviour than the children" and feedback from the public questioned the legality of holding children against the the wishes of their parents

"A small number of schools and early learning services experienced negative or unhelpful behaviours from their parent/Whānau community including: verbal and physical abuse, parents trying to break into a school, parents trying to entice their children out of the school, damaging school property and fighting with other parents.

"Due to this behaviour, some schools and services decided to break their lockdown procedures to de-escalate the situation or to limit the repercussions of the behaviour. A number of children/young people witnessed this behaviour, which increased their anxiety about the situation."

The report said parents had the right to take their child out of the school or ECE whenever they wanted and the ministry could consider the extent to which legal clarification was required in relation to whether children could be held by a school or early learning service against their parents' wishes.

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