Christchurch mosque attacks lockdown review – response to legal questions

A number of questions were raised as a result of the lockdown on 15 March 2019.

Can children be held by a school or early learning service if it is against their parents’ wishes? Does this depend on the time of day?

Schools and early learning services have a responsibility under Health and Safety legislation to keep staff, children and young people safe. This responsibility needs to be balanced against a parent’s right to take their child out of the school or early learning service should they wish to do so. Opening the school or early learning service to a parent could be a risk when there is unknown danger.

If despite being advised of the risks in letting children out of school or an early learning service in the midst of a lockdown or shelter in place event, the parent or caregiver insists the school/service must release their child to their care, the school/service will need to do so.

Note that in a single school or early learning service lockdown situation, NZ Police are likely to be on site and would thereby have authority over access to the site.

To prevent or minimise such situations occurring in the future, it is important that schools and services are clear in their communications when planning for and responding to emergency events. Parents and caregivers need to be aware of their role in an emergency which includes responding to information and instructions from the school or early learning service.

The guidance developed to support parents and caregivers understand their role in an emergency, will assist school and early learning service communications and engagement with parents and caregivers about their emergency procedures.

This will be published in multiple languages in Term 1 2021.

A template has been developed which schools and early learning services can use to summarise the key emergency management information their parents and caregivers should know. It can be edited to meet the needs of the school, early learning service and their communities.

See also ‘key principles’ below.

Who has responsibility for contractors that are working on the site of a school or early learning service?

The school and early learning service has responsibility to manage all people on site in an emergency including visitors and contractors.  It is important that schools, early learning services and any contractors working on the school or service site, consult and coordinate on their emergency plans and arrangements.

If children or young people were off-site and then came back to a school, is the school required to let them back in, even if it means they will break their Lockdown policy and procedures?

Planning for Education Outside the Classroom and other excursions will need to include how to contact the group who are offsite at the time an emergency occurs. Communicating with any groups to remain away until the situation has been resolved will be a part of that plan.

See also ‘key principles’ below.

Can technology (e.g. mobile phones, devices and tablets) be taken from children or young people during an emergency management situation if deemed to be in the best interests of the mental health and wellbeing of all children/young people?

Cell phone and other device use among school students may mean students are quickly in contact with their parents and friends. Document school protocols about the use of cell phones and other devices in an emergency and make sure students know they are to advise their teacher if they have made contact with their parents or caregivers. This is particularly important if the child/student is going to be uplifted by their parent or caregiver. 

Please make sure parents and caregivers are also aware of your policy; they may become anxious if they cannot contact their child. Good practice would be to consult with parents and caregivers when reviewing/developing your policy.

Can, or should, staff physically stop children or young people from trying to leave a school during a Lockdown?

The use of physical restraint is a last resort. It is far better to prevent dangerous situations developing or using de-escalation techniques to calm things down, but that’s not always possible.

In schools, teachers and authorised staff members can only physically restrain a student if it is necessary to prevent imminent harm to the health, safety or wellbeing of that student or another person, and the teacher or staff member reasonably believes there is no other option available. Any restraint used must be reasonable and proportionate in the circumstances.

See our guidance on physical restraint for further information (please note we are currently working to update the rules and guidelines on physical restraint).

If a staff member chooses to leave during an event, what actions can the school or service take?

People can react differently than expected in an emergency. Often the way they act is influenced by past experiences, their perception of safety in the school or service, and family members.

Informing staff members of the emergency plan regularly and setting the expectation about staying on site are helpful, if there is an event. Practice drills and scenario testing are useful ways to share that information about your emergency management plan.

Encouraging staff to discuss and agree safety plans with their own families in the event of a crisis should also help staff remain on site when there is an event.

If staff leave a school or service during an event understand what is driving this response and ensure the emergency management team makes contact with the staff member, checking on their safety. When the staff member returns reinforce the need for appropriate actions and their personal safety plans and agreements.  

Systems to communicate regularly with staff, particularly during a lockdown or shelter in place need to be included in planning. Eg cell phones or in some instances a ‘runner’ may be used.

Can staff lock doors during a Lockdown if it may be in breach of their fire safety protocol?

Schools and early learning services are encouraged to work with their local emergency services, including Fire and Emergency New Zealand, when reviewing their emergency management plan.

Key principles

In any emergency event, there is no one size fits all response as there are many potential scenarios and contexts. Management and staff in schools and early learning services will need to make decisions at the time, to respond to the circumstances they are faced with.

Having an emergency management plan in place that is prominent, practiced and regularly reviewed will support management and staff to make appropriate decisions at the time of an event. The plan needs to allow for adaptive leadership, be principles-driven, have child wellbeing at the heart and not be unduly prescriptive. 

Good relationships with local emergency services and regularly communicating with children, students, parents and caregivers will support a coordinated response.

15 March 2019 Christchurch Lockdown Review

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