BOWDEN - Chinook’s Edge School Division and Olds RCMP have jointly decided to extend online learning at home for students at Bowden Grandview School until Feb. 14.
However, the school board and the Mounties are confident they have a plan to move forward, including an option for online learning for students and families who remain vehemently against the provincial masking mandate.
Students at the kindergarten to Grade 12 school were sent home on Feb. 4 and 7 as a circuit breaker from the online firestorm last week over the revolt from about a dozen young students against the provincial COVID-19 masking requirement.
The social media firestorm led to threatening messages against school staff, as well as erroneous commentary that protesting students were being harmed and subjected to inhumane conditions at the school.
“No students at any time were harmed in any way, so let’s just relax about that. With accurate information making its way out through a number of media sources, and with time for people to let cooler heads prevail, we thought this just puts us in the safest position to open on Monday,” said Kurt Sacher, the superintendent of schools for the school division, adding the extra time off from the school gives everybody time to receive and digest accurate information. “Unless there is new information out of the blue we will be moving ahead on Monday.”
Sacher said the school board, in partnership with the Olds RCMP, have worked with the protesting families on a case-by case-basis.
“They have been very cooperative and reasonable,” he said.
Sacher said he expects some families and students will likely choose to just “bear with it” and wear a mask in the school, while others could choose to learn online until the mask mandate changes.
Kristy Lee Taylor, a Bowden-area mother whose two children spearheaded the student masking protest, said online learning is “not easy” for her family and others as rural internet is not reliable. However, a family decision was made last Friday, Feb. 4 that her kids will be learning from home with hard copy learning packages.
“The whole idea was to bring attention to what is going on and it encourages other people who have just been too afraid to speak up,” said Taylor, who acknowledged that she and her family has been “heard” on the masking mandate issue. “It was never an attack on teachers.”
Olds RCMP Staff Sgt. Warren Wright said his detachment has been involved in the discussions with the high drama at the Bowden school since the crisis began last week.
“We have collectively been doing a continual risk assessment involving the students and the staff of the school with respect to the safety and security,” said Wright. “As a result of that continuing risk assessment we were consulted and we support the decision to keep the school online until Monday, and should anything change, then the risk assessment will be looked at again and further discussions will be made with the school and the school division.”
Wright added his detachment is continuing its investigation into the “criminal threats” that were made online against the Bowden school’s staff members.
Sacher said there’s now an “understanding” how best to move forward and to find ways to “give kids a voice” and to have an appropriate form of protest.
“I don’t believe it was their intent to go to the degree it went to,” said Sacher. “The fact is it got that far, and through social media we learned something about how disruptive that can be to the flow of a school when people don’t have accurate information.”
Sacher said going forward, the school will follow all provincial COVID guidelines until changes are made by the Alberta government.
“We have no option. It is non-negotiable,” said Sacher. “There is not a school division in Alberta that is going to not follow a lawful order of the chief medical officer of health.”
Sacher said the front entrance or boot room, which was used last week as a holding area for parental pick-up for non-compliant students, will not be used in the future.
“The point has been made. The attention is out there. People know how they feel. There’s other ways that students can connect and express,” said Sacher.
“I’ve personally said I would be prepared to spend some time with the students listening to their concerns and helping them find ways to channel their voice. We just don’t want the disruption of the school anymore. We’re confident we have a plan.”