Waving signs stating ‘Let my child breathe” and “Oxygen is essential,” about 50 people protested mask wearing in the schools near the Red Deer Public school board office on Tuesday.
The group — including students, parents, grandparents and some libertarians — also shared its plans with the Advocate to demonstrate near the Red Deer Catholic Regional Schools office on Wednesday morning.
Both local school divisions are being picketed because they have chosen to impose some mask-wearing rules.
Although the province announced on Friday it was reinstating a province-wide mask mandate for all indoor public spaces and workplaces, the decision about schools was left up to local school boards.
Red Deer Public trustees have stated the government has left them in a frustrating, no-win spot. A motion was passed by local public school trustees this week stating the government’s lack of leadership leaves them facing greater uncertainty and increased community division.
Tuesday’s anti-masks-in schools protesters made their objections on various grounds.
Some cited their children’s’ medical conditions, including asthma, eczema, and anxiety, which are exacerbated by mask use. Others consider face coverings ineffective, and feel that COVID doesn’t present any real danger to school-age children.
And a few protesters admitted they simply don’t like the government or school district imposing these rules on them — or their children.
“The government has way more power over our lives than it should,” said Jordan Milmine, who feels it makes no sense that some school divisions are going with masking rules when others aren’t.
“There’s absolutely no reason for this. My kids have an immune system that can fight viruses,” said Milmine.
Courtney Roberts and Chad Leclerc, with five children in Grades 2 through 8, said their kids have expressed everything from fear and intimidation to confusion about when and why they are having to cover their faces at school.
Young children “shouldn’t have to feel responsible” for knowing when masks should be worn or taken off, said Roberts.
Leclerc feels for kids with asthma who feel out of breathe wearing a mask. “I also have asthma and I can’t wear a mask for five minutes without needing to take it off.”
Both the school district and the province — which gave Alberta schools districts the choice of setting their own rules on masking — were blamed by the protesters for this situation.
Ashley Skelton said her child’s first day wearing a mask in the classroom “did not go well. The Red Deer Public School board “told us at the beginning of the school year we had a choice,” she said and all of a sudden this was taken away.
“It’s causing emotional and mental distress,” added parent Jennifer George, who has children in Grade 2 and Grade 5 in the Catholic district. George is planning to picket in front of the Catholic district on Wednesday.
The chairs of the Red Deer Public and Catholic school boards could not be reached for comment Tuesday.
Following the province’s latest masking rules for indoor spaces, both districts decided students from pre-kindergarten to Grade 12 will have to wear masks on buses, in all common areas in school buildings — but not necessarily in classrooms if they are front facing and seated in rows.
On Tuesday, Education Minister Adriana LaGrange’s office put out the following statement: “Provincial guidance was made available to school boards in June, well in advance of the school year, so they could begin planning. Additional guidance was also provided in the middle of August. This guidance is based on the expert medical advice of Alberta’s chief medical officer of health and has not changed since school started.
“Local school authorities continue to have the ability and the corresponding accountability to choose to put in place additional measures, such as masking, that exceed provincial guidance… Trustees are ultimately accountable to their constituents and the decisions they make.”