THERE was a calm but decisive response to the ‘bomb in a bag’ hoax at the Wonthaggi Primary School last Friday morning when students were moved to the school gymnasium, under direction from Victoria Police and the Education Department, until the incident could be fully investigated.
Unlike other schools in Gippsland, including at Cowes Primary School, evacuation wasn’t deemed necessary at Wonthaggi, students weren’t sent home and classes resumed at 1.30pm.
It was, however, an eventful first day for the school’s 46 new preppies.
According to Billson Street principal, Leonie Anstey, the school received a threatening phone call at about 11.30am and responded under the school’s emergency management plan, at the direction of police and the Education Department.
“Police made an initial search of the gymnasium and it was declared a safe place by VicPol and the Education Department,” Ms Anstey said.
“The students were moved to the gym and they remained there.
“The safety of the students is our top priority and we took it seriously, following the direction of police and the Education Department at every point.”
Ms Anstey said there was an announcement that there would be a school assembly in the gymnasium and everyone was moved to the gym in an orderly fashion.
“The year 1 to 6 students were given some details of what had occurred, that there had been a silly phone call received, but the preps were simply told there was going to be a school assembly.”
On advice from VicPol, the school issued a social media post, along the lines of the post police had put on their own Bass Coast Police Facebook page.
“We contacted as many of the prep parents as we could and we sent a letter home with everyone at the end of the day,” Ms Anstey said.
She praised staff, police, the Education Department and the school’s 293 students for their response.
Schools in Craigieburn, Berwick, Morwell, Lakes Entrance, Sale and Cowes were, however, evacuated following the calls.
Assistant principal at Cowes, Rodney McKenzie, told The Age last week that a receptionist received a “computerised call” at about 11am.
“[It was] like a robot speaking,” Mr McKenzie said.
“It said there was a bomb located in the school in a backpack.”
Mr McKenzie said the school’s 553 students, including new prep students, were evacuated to the nearby cultural centre.
“Police have inspected the school and there’s no perceived threat, but students won’t be returning to school today,” he said.
An announcement, which caused some alarm initially, was made over the school’s PA that there would be an assembly at the shire civic centre.
“We must evacuate, this is not a drill,” it said, with students and teachers advised to leave the school immediately, without collecting bags or other materials.
The students were then marched in an orderly manner, the 700 metres down Thompson Avenue, to the civic centre.
Parents were informed by text message and collection arranged.
Police issued the following statement last Friday:
“Victoria Police can confirm it is treating the threatening phone calls received by a number of Victorian schools today as a hoax.
“We are satisfied that there are no imminent threats to schools and that the threats are not terrorism related.
“A police investigation into the origin of the calls is ongoing.”
Other bomb hoax calls were received at schools in a number of states and metropolitan media were reporting last week that the messages were similar in nature to those which caused the evacuation of 18 schools in Britain last Wednesday.
The London Telegraph reported a Russian Twitter group calling itself ‘Evacuators 2K16’ appeared to claim responsibility for some of the hoaxes and had invited students to get in touch if they wanted to “get out of school” for the day.
Police there are investigating if the calls were part of a co-ordinated, “false and malicious” hoax that spread to France.
Anyone with further information regarding the hoax is urged to contact Crime Stoppers on 1800 333 000 or submit a confidential crime report to www.crimestoppersvic.com.au.