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‘Shameful’: Anti-vaccine protesters enter Salmon Arm schools, triggering ‘hold and secure’

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VANCOUVER (NEWS 1130) — A mom whose Grade 12 daughter was locked in her Salmon Arm classroom after anti-vaccine demonstrators entered her school Friday says the group should be ashamed of themselves.

The woman, who wants to remain anonymous, says she found out what was happening when she got an email from the district. That message said several schools had been placed on “hold and secure,” locking students and staff in to the buildings in order “to ensure the safety of both staff and students.”

Superintendent Donna Kriger said “those opposed to vaccinations and masking” have already been protesting at district offices.

“This morning these protesters did something which was completely unacceptable, which was choosing to enter schools in and around Salmon Arm,” she wrote in the statement informing the community about the incident.

The woman whose daughter was locked in at Salmon Arm Secondary says the message frightened her, but she was able to get in touch with her child quickly.

“It scared me as a parent. I’m so lucky she is at least older and had her phone on her. She responded within minutes. She was like, ‘I’m okay,’ and I said, ‘What is going on?’ and she said, ‘People came into the school.'”

Once she confirmed her daughter was safe, her fear gave way to other emotions.

“It was shameful, and I was angry. Shame on those people that protested at those kids’ schools today and my kid’s school. Shame on them for locking my kid in her classroom to keep her safe, ” she says.

“These kids have had so much taken away from them, and this is their safe place. This is the place that they go everyday. Their friends are there, their teacher is there, the people that keep them safe are there, and what happened today wasn’t safe. It was selfish, and it was shameful and it was wrong.”

Because of the “hold and secure,” her daughter’s school will be locked down from Tuesday to Friday this week.

That’s not fair, says the mom, adding the last time her daughter had a full week of school was during Grade 10. Last year, she went to school two days one week and one day the next.

The woman says the anti-vaccine group targeted the high school and two elementary schools. While she’s upset by what happened Friday, she’s not necessarily surprised given vaccination rates in the Shuswap are relatively low. In B.C., the rate of people in the province who are fully vaccinated is 78.9 per cent. In Salmon Arm, it’s 68, and in nearby Enderby it’s 59. There were 103 cases in Salmon Arm alone between Sept. 5 and Sept. 11, and the rate of infection is more than 20 per 100,000.

The protest comes as the district is offering immunization clinics at several schools, which the mom thinks is the reason why the protesters chose to target them.

“The school district isn’t putting on the vaccine clinics, it’s Interior Health. If you’re going to protest somewhere, go to their head office. Go to City Hall. Go to the RCMP. You’re brave enough to stand in front of hospital workers and cancer patients and elementary kids? Go ahead and go to the RCMP. Stand there,” she says.

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The mom adds she doubts protesters’ work masks — adding another level of concern for the well-being of students.

“Take your protests in front of adults. Take your protests somewhere where you’re not targeting hospitals, you’re not targeting children in schools,” she says.

“The little kids and teachers at the school, they can’t help you. It’s the health department. It’s not these kids. They’ve had enough to go through. Don’t scare them anymore.”

She hopes the vaccine clinics continue, saying bringing them to a halt would be rewarding the protesters’ bad behaviour.

Trustee Association President Stephanie Higgins says she is disappointed to hear that the safety of staff and students was compromised by people, adding the demonstrators were misdirected.

“If people have questions about these things, they should be directing them to the appropriate authorities not our school principals and teachers … They are not there to answer health-related questions, they are there to answer education-related questions about the children in the building,” she says.

This is ‘unfortunately’ not the first time demonstrators have entered schools because they opposed a policy but Higgins says “it’s still just as inexcusable every time it happens.”

B.C.’s public safety minister says targeting schools ‘a complete and utter disgrace’

The North Okanagan-Shuswap district will be locking the doors to all schools starting next week, according to the superintendent. Students and staff will have to notify the school office if they require access.

“Please know that the intent of our actions is to maintain environments which are safe for all students and staff,” Kriger writes.

“The school district will be working with the RCMP to ensure that these protests are kept from all district property in the future.”

The Salmon Arm RCMP tells NEWS 1130 they were not called to any of the schools Friday, but that they will be working with the district to address this issue.

A similar incident happened in Abbotsford recently as well, part of the continuing trend of vaccination and mask protestors holding large public events across the country, and drawing widespread condemnation for rallying outside of hospitals.

Meantime, Minister of Public Safety and Solicitor General of British Columbia Mike Farnworth said it was “absolutely unacceptable” that the anti-vaxxers chose schools as their places of protest.

“This is just a complete and utter disgrace,” he said. “The word ‘Covidiot’ doesn’t even begin to describe how inappropriate the actions of these whackjobs are. It’s unacceptable in the extreme.”

– With files from Lasia Kretzel

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