La Loche, Sask., high school set to re-open on Monday with new safety measures after stabbings

Dene High School in La Loche, Sask., is set to reopen on Monday with some new safety measures after a stabbing incident last Thursday left a student and a teaching assistant injured.

The school will have metal detectors and two additional security guards — bringing the total to four — when students return.

Classes at the school have been cancelled this week while the Northern Lights School Division No. 113 developed a new school safety plan, but the building remains open for counselling services.

La Loche is about 600 kilometres northwest of Saskatoon.

The high school was the scene of a mass shooting in 2016. A 17-year-old student first killed two teen brothers in a home before going to the high school, where he killed a teacher and a teacher’s aide, and wounded seven others.

Jason Young, director of education for the Northern Lights School Division No.113, said the new measures are necessary in the wake of the recent stabbings. 

“Given the seriousness of this situation and the trauma that some folks are reliving from the past and [with] new people on staff who have been traumatized, this requires this type of response to ensure that everyone feels safe in this school, in this building, and [is] getting support,” Young said. 

Young confirmed on Tuesday that a student was still in RCMP custody in relation to the stabbing attack.

Memorial covered in snow for those who were killed in the 2016 La Loche shooting.
A memorial for those killed in the 2016 La Loche mass shooting. (Trevor Bothorel/CBC)

More support is needed in La Loche: Mayor

La Loche’s Mayor Georgina Jolibois was in Regina on Tuesday to meet with government officials about community safety. 

She said her village is afraid. 

“We as a community want to heal, we want to move forward, we want an excellent quality of life,” Jolibois said. “The help has to come. We know the status quo is not working.”

Woman speaking outside the Saskatchewan legislature
Georgina Jolibois is the mayor of La Loche. She spoke at the Saskatchewan Legislature on Tuesday advocating for more supports in the village. (Adam Bent/CBC)

Jolibois said the village is working on a community safety plan, but that increased support from provincial and federal governments is needed.

She said that could include furthering a relationship with RCMP to educate members on Dene culture, bringing in more mental health workers who are willing to understand Dene culture, educating community members on how to provide mental health support and bringing in more nurses. 

“It’s really crucial. When we can get to the level of the core root problem of the trauma, then there’s immense healing that occurs,” Jolibois said.

Jolibois said she was happy that Saskatchewan’s Minister Responsible for First Nations, Métis and Northern Affairs Don McMorris and MLA for Athabasca Jim Lemaigre visited La Loche on Friday to spend time in the school, and with RCMP officers and other community members. 

She said her meetings were positive and she expects to hear back in about 10 days. 

Difficult to get people up to La Loche: Minister McMorris

McMorris said the province is committed to engaging with La Loche.

“It’s not the dollar resources because the dollars are there for the most part,” McMorris said on Tuesday. “It’s human resources, making sure we have people to fill those needed positions in hard to recruit communities.”

Man standing in the Saskatchewan Legislative Building
Don McMorris, the minister responsible for First Nations, Métis and northern affairs, addressed the stabbing on Tuesday. (CBC)

McMorris added that the province is willing to entertain any ideas that come from the community.

There is currently a team of around seven or eight support people on hand at Dene High School, according to Young. 

Young said the school division is looking at ways at continuing mental health support in the community.

“It just seems there’s a shortage of staff,” Young said. “We’re looking at finding ways to mitigate that. Our plan is to ensure that those counselling supports and any other supports required are there for the school.”

Young said there could be challenges replacing teachers who may need time off to deal with the traumas they’re facing after the stabbings.

The school division has scheduled a parent meeting on Wednesday to hear feedback and concerns from parents.

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