BONNYVILLE – Community members encouraged Bonnyville high school students to ditch their masks and stage a walk out following the bell signifying a return to class after the lunch break on Friday.
The intention of the demonstration was to protest masking in schools and other mandates related to COVID-19 public health measures.
Thursday morning a poster began circling social media that read: “Bonnyville Let us Breathe Walkout.”
The digital poster explained that participants in the demonstration would meet outside École Notre Dame High School (NDHS) at 12:20 p.m. on Feb. 4 and “then march to BCHS (Bonnyville Centralized High School) to pick up that student group.”
The poster did not directly indicate who the organizers of the student protest and walkout were, but it did feature the logos of both NDHS and BCHS, along with a disclaimer that students should ask their parents' permission before taking part in the demonstration.
About an hour before the demonstration took place, a statement from Pamela Guilbault, the superintendent for the Lakeland Catholic School Division, was published on NDHS’ social media page acknowledging the poster and distancing themselves from the rally.
“It has come to our attention that there is a poster circulating in the community and on social media that is advertising an event for students at BCHS and NDHS on Friday, Feb. 4. The use of the schools' logos on the poster has led some people to believe that this event is being organized or has been endorsed by the two schools,” read the statement by Guilbault.
“We would like to advise our students, staff, parents and the community that our logos were used without our permission and this event is in no way endorsed or supported by NDHS or Lakeland Catholic School Division.”
She continued, “Classes will proceed as scheduled on Friday and students are expected to be in attendance at school and participating in classes.”
A statement in relation to the student walkout was not made by Northern Lights Public Schools Division. The superintendent from NLPS, Rick Cusson, could not be reached for comment.
More than 60 people took part in Friday’s demonstration. Roughly 12 to 20 high school students took part in the anti-mask rally.
Other supporters circled the school in vehicles honking and displaying Canadian flags and signs denouncing the province’s public health measures.
After the demonstration, Trevor Schaffrick, the pastor of the Bonnyville Fellowship Alliance Church, told students, “If you want to go back into class, go back into class. If it's your statement that you are going to take the rest of the afternoon off, whatever you do, do it with the understanding of your parents.”
An RCMP presence was observed but police did not interfere with the demonstration.