Around 50 people turned out to Lindsay Thurber Comprehensive High School (LTCHS) Tuesday morning to protest alleged unequal punishment handed out following a fight at the school last week.
Along with the protesters, a large Red Deer RCMP presence was on-hand to keep an eye over the proceedings.
The series of events that sparked the controversy began last Monday evening when LTCHS Principal Dan Lower says an altercation between two Grade 9 students took place at a city skate park. It then reignited on school grounds the following day.
The story started getting a lot of attention after a brief video of the fight on school grounds was posted to Facebook. The video showed some of the students in the fight were Syrian, a fact confirmed by school division officials.
Those who showed up at the school Tuesday morning weren’t satisfied by a statement released over the weekend by Red Deer Public Schools officials that said all of the students involved in the altercation were dealt with equally.
“We’re concerned about the accommodation for people coming into our country and the political correctness,” said Stephen Garvey, leader and founder of the National Advancement Party of Canada, and member of Western Canadians Against Islam. “We’re concerned that our citizens are coming last. In this case we’re talking about young students who are getting beat up at the school through gangs of kids. There’s no room for political correctness when it comes to the well-being of our young kids in our country. We need to start standing up for them.”
Others at the protest came looking for clarity on what exactly transpired last week.
“As a parent I was concerned that the kids weren’t being dealt with fairly and justly,” said Cari Gilbert, whose daughter attends Thurber.
“It’s very hard on social media to get a clear story of exactly what happened,” she noted. “So I did talk to my daughter’s vice-principal and she assured me that all the kids were suspended as per the regulations, and the kids were safe to come to school and they were very seriously dealing with all of the kids that were involved in the fight and the school would be safe and open.”
Speaking to the protesters, Lower tried to dispel information he says was shared on social media.
“What is not true is that people were dealt with in different ways. If you threw a punch, or you kicked or you hit, you were suspended for that action, for equal time,” Lower told them.
“In total, from two different incidents that happened a couple hours apart, there were eight suspensions. Four of those were for Syrian kids and four were for Canadian kids, all for five days,” he added. “We do not show preferential treatment to anybody. Violence is violence and our kids need to feel safe, and our parents need to know their kids are safe here. I don’t know how or why somebody would put out that it was dealt with in any different way, but it was not.”
Despite the incident, Lower remains confident his school is a great place to be.
“I think if you talk to the vast majority of our kids, and our parents, that we are a very inclusive school. We have kids from all over that attend our school. The message we are trying to get out is that if you are a good person and you follow the rules, you have a place at Lindsay Thurber and you’ll get an education. If you don’t, then there will be consequences and we move on.”
Near the front doors of the school stood Thomas Gower, a Grade 11 student who says he was one of the few who tried to break up the fight that took place at the school.
He stood Tuesday with a sign showing the message he wanted to share: “No More Hate, No More Fear. Refugees are Welcome Here.”
“I honestly believe that this protest is unnecessary. The only real effect is making kids feel unsafe at school, at this point,” he said. “From what I’ve seen, they’re protesting based on misinformation and a lack of understanding for the reality of the situation. It’s spiraled into a debate of race and religion when in reality what caused this had nothing to do with race or religion.”
Lower responded to claims from protesters saying students at the school have been assaulted, sexually or otherwise, and that those incidents have gone unresolved.
“We do need to know when things are out there so that we can deal with them. But I don’t know how we can be expected to deal with things that are not brought to our attention.”
Red Deer Public Schools Superintendent Stu Henry told the gathered crowd he hopes some good can come from the situation.
“I just hope that it opens up conversations and students and parents are free to come in and talk to our administration about anything that’s going on at the school.”
Still, though, the protesters came away unhappy with what they heard, calling school officials “Traitors” and “Liars” as they walked away.
“Disgusted, I’m actually thinking about pulling my son out of this school,” said Letisha Lyle. “I don’t think he needs to be somewhere where they’re not taking this seriously. This is ridiculous.”
Lyle says she came away from the conversation with more questions than answers.
“Why will they not honestly answer our questions? Why are they allowing this to happen? They don’t have to,” she added.
Brenda Bell, whose son is a Grade 10 student at LTCHS and was involved in the fight on school grounds, says she just wants the truth.
“According to the kids in school, not everybody got fair punishment. My son got five days’ suspension for jumping in to help the other boy. The other two Syrian boys who jumped in apparently got one day in, one day out. The Principal is saying they all got equal. Prove it, prove it to me,” she implored.
Constable Derek Turner with Red Deer RCMP confirmed they are still investigating the incident and that some form of restorative justice is a possibility.
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