BOWDEN - Hundreds of students have returned to Bowden Grandview School following almost two weeks of high drama when a dozen students rebelled against the controversial provincial COVID-19 masking requirement.
And most of the dozen students who were part of the masking rebellion were expected to be in class.
The Alberta government masking order for students in schools and on buses moved from mandatory to optional beginning Feb. 14 following the province’s announcement on Feb. 8 to initiate the first step of a three-part plan to lift most COVID-19 restrictions by March 1.
The provincial initiative to end all mandatory student masking would seemingly appear to end the masking controversy at the Bowden school, which for several days earlier in the month created a nation-wide social media firestorm, along with criminal threats against school staff.
Students at Bowden’s kindergarten to Grade 12 school were sent home for online learning on Feb. 4 and 7 as a circuit breaker from the social media firestorm.
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Chinook’s Edge School Division in consultation with the Olds RCMP then extended that directive to Feb. 14, wanting extra time to work on an acceptable solution with protesting students and parents.
However, on Feb. 8 the province announced its plan to phase out COVID restrictions.
As part of the province’s three-stage plan, masking requirements for children and youth 12 and under were removed effective Feb. 14, as are all masking mandates for children and youth of all ages in schools. Adults, including staff, must continue to wear a mask in all Chinook’s Edge facilities until March 1.
Kurt Sacher, superintendent of schools for the Chinook’s Edge School Division, said on Feb. 11 he met with staff at the Bowden school and had a “good conversation.”
“They (staff) will welcome them and embrace them and bridge any distance that might exist,” Sacher said, adding the families involved in the controversy never wanted anything to do with the online threats.
“That was never their intent,” he said.
Sacher added he talked with all the families of the non-compliant students involved in the masking revolt. He said the “good cooperation” that existed before the Feb. 8 provincial announcement continued.
He said most of the families went through a “restorative justice” process to try to get to the “root of the challenge” facing all sides.
Sacher said on Feb. 11 the process was conducted in a “spirit of cooperation”, and most of the non-compliant students were expected to return to the school on Feb. 14.
“We feel very confident in the plan. The staff are ready to move forward. It is a public school. We teach to all the kids and not just most of them. We welcome them all back,” he said.
However, Sacher said there was still “two or three” families that have requested to take another week to make a decision about returning to school. He said talks will continue with those families through the restorative justice process.
“We’ve had really good phone conversations with them. We’re very optimistic that we will have no difficulty in finding a solution plan,” said Sacher.