S’pore high school seeks psychological support

Ang Hwee Min

SINGAPORE (CNA) – About 540 staff members and students from River Valley High School have sought psychological support from an emergency response post at the school, said Education Minister Chan Chun Sing.

The Caring Action in Response to Emergencies (CARE) Post, manned by counsellors, was set up after a Secondary 1 student died at the school last week. A Secondary 4 boy has been charged with murder.

An axe was seized as a case exhibit, and preliminary investigations found that the two students “were not known to each other”, said the police at the time.

Speaking in Parliament, Chan said, “It will take time for the River Valley High School community to recover. Where needed, students and staff will be referred to healthcare agencies for professional assistance.

“Most heartening, within the school community, the students initiated their own small acts of kindness. Some distributed small gifts and snack packs; others sent encouraging notes and sweet treats. Students are looking out not just for themselves but also for their teachers, and urging them to seek help where needed.”

Flowers outside River Valley High School. PHOTO: TAN SI HUI

River Valley High’s advisory committee, parent-teacher association, parents and alumni have also rallied around the school, said Chan, addressing questions about the incident from at least 10 Members of Parliament.

“All these speak volumes of the compassion and strength of the River Valley High
School community.”

In his ministerial statement, Chan said the CARE Post was set up the day after the incident to support students and staff who needed “immediate help” even though the school was closed for Hari Raya Haji.

When school resumed on July 21, River Valley High teachers checked in with students to “provide them with a safe place” to share their thoughts and feelings.

“Students who wished to could return home. Teachers called those who were not in school to check on how they were doing. Students and teachers who needed time off were granted leave,” said the education minister.

WHAT HAPPENED ON JULY 19

In his speech, Chan also provided a summary of what happened in the school on July 19.

At 11.35am towards the end of the recess break, a group of students encountered a 16-year-old student outside a toilet, he said.

He was holding an axe, and he asked the students to call the police, said the minister.

“The students returned to their classroom immediately and called their teacher. Subsequently, the 16-year-old student made the same request to another group of students in the classroom next to the said toilet.”

The students immediately went into their classroom, locked the doors from within and called their form teachers for help – according to the “run-hide-tell” lockdown drill, Chan said.

A teacher who arrived first at the scene instructed the 16-year-old to put down the axe, and he complied.

He was then escorted to a meeting room.

Other teachers called the police and checked the toilet where the 16-year-old was found outside, said Chan.

The police arrived within 10 minutes and took the student into custody. Officers dispatched to the scene found the 13-year-old victim lying motionless in the toilet with multiple wounds, and pronounced him dead.

“Preliminary investigations revealed that the two students had not known each other before the incident, and the axe was purchased online,” said Chan.

Once the situation was “under control”, the school’s principal broke the news to the rest of the staff before speaking to the students.

“She shared that a serious incident happened and asked students to contact their parents to assure them that they were safe,” said the minister.

The principal and other teachers also spoke separately to the group of students “who were most affected” by the incident.

“For students who assisted the police with the interviews, parental consent was duly sought, and every student was accompanied by a teacher throughout the entire process,” said Chan.

“Other parents were also informed via Parents Gateway that a serious incident had happened in school, so they could look out for their children once they were dismissed for
the day.”

Students were progressively dismissed from 3.15pm that day, with teachers stationed at various gates to give students and parents assurance, said Chan.

“By the same evening, parents were informed that a member of the RV family passed away. The school advised parents to monitor the well-being of their child. Parents who were worried for their child’s well-being were encouraged to contact their form teachers to work out ways to support their children both at home and in school.”

To provide additional support at the school, 98 Ministry of Education CARE officers and counsellors trained in psychological first aid and trauma management “put aside their regular duties” to reach out to affected teachers and students, said Chan.

He commended River Valley High for its management of the incident, noting that the students executed the “run-hide-tell” steps exactly as they were trained to do in an emergency.

“To the students of River Valley High School, thank you for showing care and compassion to one another. The teachers responded swiftly, demonstrating courage when engaging the 16-year-old, and keeping the safety of their students as their utmost priority throughout.”

He also thanked the teachers, as well as the principal, who rushed back to school while on medical leave.

“It takes an entire community to help look out for one another, to pick up warning signs that something may not be going well with an individual close to us, to provide support and comfort to those who may be troubled. May we stand united in this effort and be vigilant as we heal as a community and as a nation,” said Chan.

“I would like to conclude with some words posted on the RV tribute page, which has since drawn over 3,000 contributions: Rest if you must, cry if you must, for when your eyes can finally see clearly, you will see all of us standing in solidarity.”

After the 90-minute debate following his ministerial statement, Chan recounted what he saw when he visited River Valley High after the incident on July 19.

“When I first arrived at the school Tan Khin Hiang, the principal, received me. I knew she was in pain … not just physically but emotionally,” he said.

“Then I saw the teachers. They were also in pain and in shock… They were busy running around, making sure that each and every child under their charge was well taken care of first.

“They didn’t even have time to think about themselves nor grieve. Such is the dedication of
our educators.”

Chan also recounted his conversations with some students who were waiting to be interviewed by the police. Some were classmates of the 16-year-old.

Amid their pain and confusion, two of them asked the minister to help their friend. “They know it’s a cry for help,” Chan said.

The solidarity among students and staff of River Valley High and the way they responded to the incident will be “etched in my mind forever”, the minister said.

“And it is they who will inspire us to do all we can for the next generation, for the distressed members among us in our community regardless of age.

“That we will do our utmost so that this incident will never be repeated again. Let us work together on that.”