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Student threats and disruption over masks shuts down Central Alberta school

Following student protests against masking and resulting social media firestorm with threats against staff, students at Bowden Grandview School have been sent home for two days of online learning.
MVT Olds student at Bowden Grandview
Cale Graville, a 15-year-old Grade 10 student from Olds Koinonia Christian School, at the front of Bowden Grandview School on Feb. 3. Cale said he was in Bowden to support students who no longer wanted to wear a mask against the COVID-19 virus. Johnnie Bachusky/MVP Staff

BOWDEN – Students at Bowden Grandview School have been sent home for two days following a student revolt against the COVID-19 masking requirement that led to a social media firestorm and threats against staff.

Following two days of intense defiance from up to 12 students, who were not allowed to attend class, the school announced on the afternoon of Feb. 3 that in-person teaching was suspended for two days until Feb. 8.

“This is 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,” said a school letter to parents that was authored by principal Jeff Thompson. “The situation continued in much the same way throughout the school day today, fuelled by growing attention on social media.

“This had led to threatening messages directly to some of our staff,” added Thompson. “Under the advisement of the RCMP we are moving learning online for Friday and Monday, to allow time to find a resolution to the matter.”

Kurt Sacher, the superintendent of schools for Chinook’s Edge School Division, noted that on Feb. 3 social media messaging went viral, including “inappropriate” ones and others threatening, and a decision was made to go with online learning at home.

“The early indication is that this was a good decision to give us a little time. The energy to our knowledge has cooled down a fair bit on the social media,” said Sacher, adding there will be further dialogue with the RCMP as the school board moves forward on the incident. “A lot of those messages came from people in eastern Canada. You got angry people who don’t understand the situation and there was a lot of misinformation about what was happening.

“They were told the kids were locked in a broom closet, which was completely inaccurate.”

Kristy Lee Taylor, a Bowden-area mother whose two children were part of the student masking protest, said threats against school staff did not come from her children or other families involved in the local defiance.

“We have never threatened any of the staff. Everybody seems to think we have and our kids have, and that is not true at all,” said Taylor, adding she deleted threatening comments she saw from other social media posters. “If people are doing that then shame on them. We are not responsible for how other people act.”

As for the student protest, the school also attracted visitors from other jurisdictions who dropped by to peacefully offer support and to talk to school officials.

Cale Graville, a Grade 10 student from Olds Koinonia Christian School, came to the Bowden school with his father Clint because he went through a similar protest at his school and was also warned he would be segregated from the rest of his class.

“I think this is completely wrong and we need to stand up for what is right,” said Graville. “These kids know their values. They know their beliefs. They know what they need to do. They know it is right, and they are doing it.”