LA LOCHE, Sask. — Vice-principal Donna Janvier is slowly feeling more comfortable being back inside the high school in La Loche, Sask., and hopes students will be, too, when they return Friday.
Several changes have been made to help ease children back into classes, which were cancelled five weeks ago after a gunman walked into the school and opened fire, killing a teacher and a teacher’s aide and wounding seven others. Two teenage brothers were also shot dead in a nearby home in the remote Dene community.
Janvier and other staff told reporters Wednesday that students will see a new RCMP school resource officer and three private security guards there for the first time, and will be served a hot breakfast as part of a new food program to make the school feel more homey.
They’ll also have four classes a day instead of five, and will be able to attend classrooms off the site if they don’t want to be in the school.
“We know it will look different,” Janvier said. “It will not be back to regular routine, as we used to have it.”
But she said she’s glad to be back.
“And I’m really looking forward to Friday when I see the students.”
The staff members, some wearing purple school hoodies, said guest teachers from across the province are in La Loche to assist during the transition.
They also said the five-weeks of no school and now shortened class schedule won’t affect graduating students. The shooting happened during final exams, and marks are to be calculated on previous school work instead.
Later Wednesday, hundreds of staff, students and residents marched down the community’s main road, holding signs and banners, as part of a “Reclaiming Our School” walk that ended with a tour of the high school. Some held hands and sang songs, including “Lean on Me” and “This Little Light of Mine,” as they roamed the hallways.
The school’s main entrance, blasted with gunshot holes, is closed for the rest of the school year, but officials said it may be used later if it’s redesigned with new safety measures.
Six of the nine entrances at a separate building that houses elementary students have also been closed. Students there returned to regular classes Wednesday morning.
Their vice-principal, Erin Trotechaud, said the children were excited and their happiness lifted a heavy mood that had been in the school.
“It’s amazing how when you fill it with children and there’s laughter and there’s smiles, it just kind of washes it away and — it was really beautiful.
“It feels like home again.”
Greg Hatch, the high school’s assistant principal, said it’s important that the community continues to support the school, especially after volunteers, counsellors and others pull out.
“A week or two weeks from now, everyone’s going to leave and we’re back where we were. Our job is to make sure that doesn’t happen.”
Education Minister Don Morgan, who visited the community Tuesday, said while the RCMP school officer and security guards are in place for the short-term, “we’ll look and see what’s necessary for the long-term.
“We want to have some discussions with the community and see what they need.”
Justice Minister Gord Wyant also said victims services staff will be in La Loche as long as they are needed.