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‘Unacceptable’: Protesters enter Shuswap schools, forcing hold and secure procedures

Teacher said he didn’t feel safe for students or staff
People opposed to vaccinations and masking entered schools in and around Salmon Arm on Sept. 17 They also recently protested at the School District 83 office. (Martha Wickett/Salmon Arm Observer)

School District 83 says heightened security measures are to be put in place after members of the public brought their political protests to the doorsteps of Shuswap schools.

On Friday, Sept. 17, parents, guardians and caregivers of students were sent an email by SD83 Superintendent Donna Kriger, explaining protesters opposed to masks and vaccinations had entered school facilities in and around Salmon Arm.

One of the facilities was South Canoe School.

Still shaken by the experience, Grade 7/8 teacher Yuri Melnychuk said a dozen protesters entered the school around noon. He explained the building was put on hold and secure, which he said essentially means classes don’t go out into the hallways and doors are locked as if there’s an invader on the campus.

“It was safe; however, it’s not a feeling of safety when you’re being told to do that because protesters have come into the building,” said Melnychuk, who credited the school’s principal, Jared King, for handling the incident in a positive manner, listening to what the protesters had to say and convincing them to leave the building.

“I did not feel safe that that had happened… I didn’t feel safe for my students, I didn’t feel safe for other students in the building,” added Melnychuk.

According to school administration, those involved in the South Canoe protest were not parents of children currently attending the school.

Read more: Salmon Arm chamber survey shows reluctance among membership to enforce vaccine passport

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Kriger said what happened at the schools was unacceptable. She said students at schools under hold and secure could not leave or enter until the end of the school day.

The superintendent said beginning Monday, Sept. 20, doors to all schools will remain locked. She asked that parents/guardians/caregivers continue to notify the school office if they require access.

“SD83 will be working with the RCMP to ensure that these protests are kept from all district property. Please know that the intent of our actions is to maintain environments which are safe for all students and staff,” said Kriger.

Melnychuk said he and other staff members at the school did not feel safe, that at the end of the school day people were still in state of shock, and that come Monday, a school district staff pro-development day, there would likely be a discussion about Friday’s incident, about what’s going to happen in those situations in the future.

Melnychuk noted that South Canoe is one of the schools where Interior Health has planned to hold a vaccination clinic. But that, he said, was arranged by the province and is not something the school has a say over.

“I believe that people have a right to protest and to have their voice heard; however, that’s just not the way that you go about it,” said Melnychuk. “It’s not the way to have an open and honest discussion, an open and honest discourse about your views, when you’re affecting children feeling safe and staff feeling safe and you’re taking away the innocence of children. That’s just plain not OK.”
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