Not a usual Friday
Port au Choix student huddled under a desk during College of North Atlantic lockdown
An early start to their weekend was not what students at the College of the North Atlantic campus on Prince Philip Drive in St. John’s had on their minds Friday morning.
As fate would have it, that is exactly what they got whether they liked or not.
Just before 10 a.m., the school was placed in lockdown after a social media threat was made to the school and police arrived on the scene and took command of the situation.
That’s not exactly how you want to get out of class on a Friday afternoon.
I’d prefer to see a sick professor or just simply skip the class rather than have the feeling you’re in physical danger.
It was the second time in a week a school in the province was placed on lockdown. Last week, nearby Prince of Wales Collegiate was also placed under the condition after a bear spray attack.
On any other Friday, college student Stephanie Gaslard would have been on the other side of the building with the rest of her Community Recreation Leadership classmates studying up.
This Friday was different. Her classes were cancelled for the day. She didn’t have to go in.
Looking to take advantage of the extra time, the 37-year-old Port au Choix native was getting some additional class work finished and had a meeting with her academic advisor.
She and three other students were in the guidance office when word came that the school was being placed in lockdown.
Thinking it was a joke at first — this is Newfoundland where things like this don’t often happen — it was a couple of minutes before Gaslard was ushered into a room inside the office and hid under a desk with the lights off.
Huddled in the dark by herself, she turned off the ringer on her cellular phone for fear someone would call her and waited. She made a Facebook post with the idea of letting her mother know she was safe.
As it happens, her mother Shirley wasn’t the only thing on her mind. Her thoughts also turned to her children in class at schools in the capital city.
While no shouting or loud noises could be heard echoing through the empty hallways, times were still tense.
The lockdown lasted less than an hour, but it felt like much longer for those involved.
“If anyone would’ve knocked on the door, I might’ve had a stroke,” said Gaslard. “Scary was not the word. It was surreal.”
Like the rest of us, it wasn’t something Gaslard had expected to experience going to school in this province. She had seen images of a school lockdown on television and in news clips from far-away places.
I feel for Gaslard. I’ve never been in a lockdown situation and going through school when I was younger, it was never something we even heard about.
We practised fire drills and had a school walkout once, but never had to perfect getting under a desk to evade a potential threat.
Eventually, word came that the lockout was over and that classes had been cancelled for the rest of the day.
The Royal Newfoundland Constabulary determined there was no risk to staff, students or the campus itself and lifted the lockdown.
Removing herself from beneath the desk, Gaslard entered the now-crowded hallways of the campus and moved a brisk walk towards the nearest exit.
There were students running to get off the premises.
As she left through the main entrance, just one thought pushed her.
“All I wanted to do was get out of the building and go pick up my children,” she said.