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ATA calls on province to assert that schools are out of bounds for protests

"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," says teachers' association president
MVT Sundre High School protest
Sgt. Trent Sperlie, Sundre RCMP detachment commander, spoke with demonstrators outside Sundre High School on Friday, Feb. 4. They ended up dispersing before the end of the school day so buses could proceed unhampered. Simon Ducatel/MVP Staff

The president of the Alberta Teachers’ Association is calling upon Premier Jason Kenney and Alberta Education Minister Adriana LaGrange to “urgently and unequivocally assert that the province’s schools should be strictly out of bounds for protests.”

Jason Schilling was responding to incidents of protests at several schools in the province in recent days.

Parents and children gathered outside River Valley School in Sundre on Tuesday protesting COVID-19 mask mandates. On Friday, a vehicle convoy assembled outside the pre-kindergarten to Grade 8 school as well as Sundre High School with similar messaging.  

A protest by as many as 12 students at Bowden Grandview School last week culminated in the entire school going to virtual learning for two days, on advice of RCMP, after threatening messages were directed at school staff.

Similar protests were noted at schools in the southern part of the province.

“Premier Kenney and Minister LaGrange must state clearly and publicly that conducting these protests at schools is unacceptable. 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,” said Schilling in a statement issued today, Feb. 5.

Schilling noted that teachers have reported to him instances where protesters entered schools, shouting, banging on lockers and forcing lockdowns -- actions he said are disruptive and traumatizing for students and staff.

A student from Sundre High School took to social media yesterday saying protests aren’t a bad thing but requested they take place in locations that don’t directly involve kids.

“Seeing the trucks, tractors, people, flags and overall message today wasn’t the problem,” says Nora Clayton’s post. “The issue begins to occur when people are banging on windows and honking their horns right outside the classrooms. As someone trying to learn and hear my teacher’s lecture this afternoon, I was too distracted by what was going on right outside the classroom.”

The Grade 12 student’s post went on to say “As people we have the right to stand up for what we believe in, but we also have the right to ensure the safety and well-being of others. I have the right to learn in a safe, quiet school.”

In a letter to parents, Bowden Grandview School’s principal, Jeff Thompson, said the move to two days of online learning was “a precautionary measure to ensure the safety of our students and staff following two days of significant disruption that emanated on social media and interrupted the proceedings of our school.”

Sensationalized and inaccurate coverage of incidents and mischaracterizations of reasonable efforts of school staff to uphold provincial law and board policy risks further fanning the flames, says the ATA’s president.

“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. Teachers too, like all other workers, have the right to a safe workplace,” said Schilling in today’s statement.  

Referencing the Education Act, Schilling pointed out that it is illegal for any person to “disturb or interrupt the proceeding of a school” or to “conduct themselves in a manner detrimental to the safe operations of a school.”

He further pointed out that parents and school boards have legislated responsibilities to contribute to creating “a welcoming, caring, respectful and safe learning environment.”

“The very least the premier and this minister can do is to state their support for and take necessary steps to uphold the law of the province in the face of those who would break it without consideration of those whom they may be harming. I’m just asking them to do their job.”

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