Alberta Teachers’ Association president Jason Schilling says with reports of protests at schools recently, the Alberta government needs to reassure the public that schools are safe. (Contributed photo)

Alberta Teachers’ Association president Jason Schilling says with reports of protests at schools recently, the Alberta government needs to reassure the public that schools are safe. (Contributed photo)

ATA calls on AB Gov’t to ensure schools are safe after several protests

The Alberta Teachers’ Association is calling on the provincial government to ensure students are safe at school after protests were held at several Alberta schools last week.

ATA president Jason Schilling said as a result of the protests, the provincial government needs to “unequivocally assert” that schools should be off-limits for protests.

“Premier Kenney and Minister (of Education Adriana) LaGrange must state clearly and publicly that conducting these protests at schools is unacceptable,” Schilling said.

“While we recognize the right to peaceful and orderly assembly, protests against government policy should take place in more appropriate places and be directed towards those making the decisions.”

Schilling’s call comes just a few days after a group of students showed up at a Bowden High School without masks and refused to leave.

Kurt Sacher, superintendent with Chinook’s Edge School division said students showed up without masks on both Wednesday and Thursday last week and their parents refused to pick them up after they violated the school’s mask mandate.

Sacher said things escalated by Thursday when social media posts went viral, for example, falsely claiming that the students were locked in a broom closet. Then came the threats to staff.

“We were getting calls and messages from people as far away as Ontario and Quebec. When people are angry, just about the pandemic in general, and they don’t know the story and they hear about a story about a kid locked in a broom closet, they get upset,” he said.

In a press release Friday, Clearview Public Schools said there were also demonstrations in their district. They said about 40 individuals protested at the district office in Stetter, as well as a demonstration at Gus Wetter School in Castor.

“We respect the right of individuals to express their opinions and recognize that demonstrations are a part of democracy. We are thankful the demonstrations were primarily peaceful. The message of the demonstrations centered around a weariness of the pandemic and its continued impact on our daily lives,” said Brenda MacDonald, superintendent for Clearview Public Schools.

“The province has the authority to establish or change health guidelines. School divisions are legally required to abide by public health orders. Clearview’s Board has not imposed any additional health guidelines over and above what the province has required, but is complying with guidelines the province has established.”

Schilling added that some teachers reported instances protesters entered schools, shouting, banging on lockers and forcing lockdowns, actions that are disruptive and traumatizing for students and staff.

“This is not about the particular issues of concern to these particular protesters. It is about ensuring that schools are safe and caring places for all students, recognizing that for some, the school is the only safe space they have,” he said.

“Teachers too, like all other workers, have the right to a safe workplace.”