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An official from the Ministry of Education said that 97 per cent of the students from River Valley High School went back to classes on July 21, 2021. — TODAY pic
An official from the Ministry of Education said that 97 per cent of the students from River Valley High School went back to classes on July 21, 2021. — TODAY pic

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SINGAPORE, July 22 — Most River Valley High School students returned to school yesterday (July 21), two days after one of its students allegedly murdered another there.

Speaking to the media yesterday, Wong Siew Hoong, director-general of education at the Ministry of Education (MoE), said that “a long shadow (had been) cast” by the incident.

He said that 97 per cent of the students had returned for lessons after the Hari Raya Haji public holiday on Tuesday. This was similar to the regular attendance on any given school day.

“This is the resilience of our students and we are proud of them.”

The school, which is located at 6 Boon Lay Avenue, has opened up various channels of support for its students and teachers who were traumatised by the incident, Wong added.

“The immediate aftermath of a tragedy like this is critical and sensitive. Since the incident, the school, with MoE headquarters’ support, has been proactively reaching out to affected staff and students to offer all our support.”

On Monday, a 16-year-old Secondary 4 student from the school was arrested after a 13-year-old boy, who was a Secondary 1 pupil, was found with multiple wounds at a toilet in the school. He was pronounced dead at the scene by a paramedic.

The 16-year-old was charged with murder and remanded for psychiatric observation the next day. He had tried to kill himself in 2019 and he did not know the younger victim, the police said from early investigations.

Psychological first-aid

Wong said that specialists from MoE and school counsellors trained in psychological first-aid and trauma management are now stationed at the school.

A room has been set up since Tuesday for staff members, students and parents to walk in to seek help. This will be open the whole of this week, Wong said.

Teachers from the school spent some time this morning to check in on students and help them process the incident, he added.

“The school, with MoE’s support, has also provided helplines for staff, students and their parents, and will continue to keep a close eye on students and staff who are still traumatised or show prolonged distress symptoms, so that help can be provided to them in a timely manner,” Wong said.

“This tragedy has inevitably sent shock waves across our schools and education fraternity.

“All our schools and teachers stand ready to help and are on vigilance to look out especially for at-risk students and those who are struggling to deal with what happened, to provide them with prompt support.”

Wong assured anxious parents that student safety will continue to be of paramount importance to the ministry and schools.

‘Scared to use toilets’

Joyce, 48, whose daughter is a student at the school, said that she was dumbfounded when she first heard of the incident on Monday afternoon.

“The details of the events were unclear and rumours were spreading like wildfire… we were unsure of what really happened,” she said, declining to give her full name.

Joyce, who works in public relations, said that the school could have switched to home-based learning during this period to give students more time to recover from the traumatic incident.

She was told that students were now afraid to use the restrooms on their own.

“My child mentioned that… students went to the restroom in groups of three or more. Some were even afraid of entering the restroom, including the toilets for girls.”

She added that students were required to attend a programme yesterday to discuss how they felt about the incident but she felt that the session was “disappointing”.

“I find this rather inappropriate because not everyone may be comfortable voicing their thoughts and feelings.”

She hopes that MoE would bear in mind the mental health of students as a priority.

“I would appreciate it if MoE could look into the mental well-being of all students with more care and concern and engage more qualified counsellors for every school.

“We hope that everyone can give some privacy, space and respect to the grieving.”

Others grieving the loss

Yesterday, words of condolences and encouragement poured in for River Valley High School from various quarters, including other schools and members of the public.

As of yesterday evening, more than a thousand of such messages were posted on a website set up by the school.

Dr Maliki Osman, Second Minister for Education, shared a prayer and a note on his Facebook page that was delivered by Reverend Father Dr Adrian Augustus Danker, the principal of St Joseph’s Institution (SJI), to his school community. 

In his prayer and message, Dr Danker said that the incident had “saddened and disturbed” the SJI community.

“We grieve the suffering and loss another school community is experiencing. We grapple to make sense of the tragedy.”

Dr Danker assured SJI students of their safety and well-being in school, and said that the school will enhance security measures to ensure their safety.

He also wrote: “School and teenage life can be stressful. Sometimes there are differences with other people that make life challenging. Other times the struggle is trying to solve problems alone.

“Your teachers and I know this. This is why we promise to be there for you. We are here if you need to talk with us.”

Safety of schools ‘sacrosanct’

In a message to educators on Tuesday evening, Education Minister Chan Chun Sing acknowledged that the incident may have come as “a huge blow, even a sense of disbelief” to educators.

“Your confidence in schools as a safe space could also have been shaken,” he added.

However, he assured that the safety of schools, staff members and students remains “sacrosanct”.

“We will do everything necessary to safeguard the trust and sense of community, together,” Chan said in his message, which was sent to the media yesterday. ― TODAY

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