(File photo)

(File photo)

OPINION: A teacher’s perspective on the Gus Wetter February protest

Dear Editor,

I am writing this letter in response to the troubling, malicious and untruthful stories I am hearing in our community, and on social media, regarding the events of the student protest that occurred at Gus Wetter School on the afternoon of Friday, February 4th. I would like to begin by reminding people that there are ALWAYS two sides to every story. As well, something my mother always used to tell me, when I was a child, “If you don’t have anything nice to say, then don’t say anything at all” is a phrase I am sure everybody has heard but many, in these trying times, have seriously forgotten.

As a retired, and now substitute teacher, at Gus Wetter School, I was fortunate enough to be teaching Physical Education at Gus Wetter during the week in question and on this particular day of protest. As a result, I am well aware of what transpired prior to this demonstration and had a full view of the actual protest that took place on the school’s property.

For those of you who were there, and perhaps have “forgotten” what actually happened, here is a brief rundown of the facts of this story:

The Gus Wetter staff was informed earlier in the week that a student protest, regarding COVID restrictions, was a possibility and that we were to carry on, as usual, and simply record any student absences as is normal procedure. At no time was staff directed to counsel students not to participate nor were students threatened with consequences if they chose to participate.

The school’s principal, Mrs. Wendy Coppock had already been instructed, by Clearview School Division Central Office Administration, to contact the local detachment of the RCMP if the protesters were on school property. Instead of aggressively treating the small handful of demonstrators (there were only 8 of them) by asking the police to step in, Mrs. Coppock stepped out of the front doors and CALMLY and PROFESSIONALLY requested the demonstrators to remove themselves from the school property. The protesters chose to argue this point as apparently, they were unaware that while they had a right to peaceful protest, they were, in fact, breaking the law by staging their protest while on school property. At this point, a non Gus Wetter student decided it was appropriate for himself to get up close and personal with Mrs. Coppock, waving a placard in her face and shouting disrespectful phrases at her while another protester screamed “You’re killing our kids!” All of this was clearly visible and loud enough to be heard by myself and several of my students, who were in the gymnasium, at the time. The fact that Mrs. Coppock was accused of shouting at the protesters and slamming the school’s front doors as she re-entered the school is simply not true. Just ask the students in my Phys. Ed. class who witnessed the so-called altercation and, better yet, come on down and try slamming the front doors. I wish you luck in getting either of those doors “slammed” as they are equipped with door closers that prevent just such an action from happening.

While rumours of a “Lock-down”, to prevent the students from joining the demonstration, are circulating on the street and throughout social media, a lock down was definitely not in effect. We did, however, have to resort to a “Hold and Secure” level of security as one of the demonstrators: a) proceeded to jump up and down on picnic tables near the school’s front entrance, b) attempted to enter the school unlawfully and c) climbed onto the window ledge to pound on the windows at the front of the school, with uncontrollable force and rage, while shouting angry slurs at the school, the school’s principal and the school’s staff. At the time of the protest, the “Hold and Secure” was initiated to prevent any unsafe confrontation between the protesters, some of whom were anything but peaceful, and anyone who may have been wishing to leave the school, through the main entrance. Staff and students were allowed to leave at any point during the protest (which, by the way, lasted for just over a half hour). People were simply asked to leave through the side doors; again, to avoid any potentially unsafe altercations.

While it is true the doors to the school were locked during the demonstration, feel free to ask any staff or student who attends Gus Wetter School and they will confirm that fact. They will also tell you that, as per Clearview School Division policy throughout this pandemic, Gus Wetter School is required to have all entrances locked, as the school is declared as a closed campus with students, staff and visitors being asked to enter only through the main entrance during the day. This is in order to control entry into the campus and minimize the risk of the spread of the COVID virus. On the day of the demonstration, not one of the very few Gus Wetter Students who were protesting, came to the main entrance to request re-admission to the school.

As far as the rumour regarding students not being allowed to join the protest, once it started, that is yet one more falsehood that’s floating among the gossip mongers. I had students in my Phys. Ed. class who were contacted on their cell phones and asked to join one of their classmates as part of the demonstrating group. My exact words to them were, “You’re welcome to go, but leave now or put your cell phones away. This is a Phys. Ed. class not a Telecommunications class.” Does that sound like I’m holding anyone hostage? By the way, it should be noted that all cell phones were tucked away and the students happily chose to stay in the gym and take part in the activity being offered at that time.

These are the facts, as they happened, when they happened on Friday, February 4th. If you ask most of the Gus Wetter High School students, they will tell you the school was not the place for these demonstrators to make their point and that is why the majority of Gus Wetter students chose not to participate in this particular protest. The fact that some of these protesters, and apparently, their followers are choosing to fabricate what happened during the demonstration and spread inflammatory misinformation far and wide is beyond petty and should be labeled for what it is. Bullying.

If you were there and are one of those malicious gossipers spreading falsehoods, either on the street or through social media, you need to smarten up and stop the nastiness. If you were not at Gus Wetter School, during the February 4th protest, but insist on spreading the lies you’ve been fed you also need to stop. You are adding to the angst Gus Wetter School staff, students and their parents have felt for the past 2 years while trying to navigate Alberta Health Service (AHS) and Clearview School Division COVID directives. The Anti-mask/Anti-vax Movement vs. AHS Mandate followers debate has already divided our tiny community. As a result, there has been a great deal of angry “venting” aimed at the administration and staff at Gus Wetter during this pandemic. Gus Wetter administration and staff are frustrated and exhausted beyond belief from bearing the brunt of this misplaced anger. By adding falsified fuel to the fire, those of you who continue to spread misinformation, regarding the February 4th demonstration, are placing even more stress on a school principal and her staff that is uncalled for, unsubstantiated and unacceptable. So stop it. Just stop it.

Some of you have listened to the wrong side of the story and are helping spread some pretty shameful lies. Now that you’ve heard the other, truthful and verifiabl side, feel free to spread the truth and show a little support for a change. Otherwise, “If you have nothing nice to say, then don’t say anything at all.”

Nancy Tamblyn