Vancouver Public Schools officials confirmed on Friday that the Skyview High School, Alki Middle School and Chinook Elementary were put in lockdown after members of the far-right Proud Boys tried to gain access to school grounds, according to witnesses.
Pat Nuzzo, communications director for the district, called the lockdown’s a “safety precaution.”
“This is related to yesterday’s protest against Washington state’s requirement for staff and students to wear masks or face coverings in schools and on buses,” Nuzzo wrote to OPB.
Patriot Prayer, a far-right group led by Southwest Washington’s Joey Gibson, and other far-right activists made posts online incorrectly claiming that a student at the school who did not want to wear a mask would face arrest if they entered school grounds.
Parents of other students at Skyview joined the anti-mask protest, holding signs and calling for the student to be given a medical exemption to mask requirements. Nearby, teachers and students held signs supporting masks.
One video posted online showed a group of people outside the school chanting “U-S-A.” Several people in the crowd were wearing black and yellow clothing of the Proud Boys, a far-right group best known for their participation in the Jan. 6 insurrection and for inciting violence during protests against anti-fascists.
VPS school board president Kyle Sproul said locking down the schools was the proper decision to ensure student safety.
“Regardless of one’s stance on mask mandates, I think most parents in our community agree that protesting at our school campuses and disrupting the school day is not in the best interest of students,” Sproul told OPB.
The school went on lockdown after members of the Proud Boys attempted to escort the freshman seeking the medical exemption into the building.
That student has been diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder and anxiety, according to her mother, Megan Gabriel. She requested an exemption from the school’s mask mandate because she said the mask can trigger panic attacks.
Gabriel told OPB she was willing to have her daughter come to school early, change classrooms before or after other students, and stay as separate as possible from other students to accommodate her daughter’s medical condition. Gabriel said the school would not exempt her daughter from the mandate.
Gabriel’s daughter has only been to school one day since classes resumed this week, she said.
“Yesterday, they locked her out of the building and I had no idea,” Gabriel said. “She was locked out of the building for an hour.”
The demonstration itself at times became vitriolic. Security guards at the school said some of the protesting women called female students derogatory names.
But Gabriel said she isn’t anti-mask or anti-vaccine. Her son wears a mask at school, she said, and she wears her mask when indoors.
There is an ongoing anti-mask right-wing protest going on in North Vancouver at Skyview High School, which started small and has now attracted open white supremacists who are encroaching school property.— Triss Winters (@TrissWinters) September 3, 2021
Video taken by a friend on scene, not my own. pic.twitter.com/rxXL4TrvgI
Nuzzo said she couldn’t discuss specific students due to confidentiality laws but said Vancouver Public Schools is required to follow state health and safety measures, including mask mandates.
“Some students qualify for a medical or disability mask accommodation,” Nuzzo said. “To provide accommodations, we work through a process with the student’s family to consider all necessary information including documentation from the health provider.”
She did not say why Gabriel’s requested exemption was denied. Nuzzo said accommodations are available for mental health needs, and that Vancouver provides a fully remote learning option.
One student told OPB that teachers and faculty at the schools guarded doors inside the building during the lockdown, while security guards addressed the Proud Boys.
“All the learning gets disrupted. We have to sit down quietly, not make noise, and we were hunkered down in our classrooms for around an hour to an hour-and-a-half,” said Lucas, a 16-year-old high school student at Skyview. OPB is withholding Lucas’ last name to protect his identity.
He compared the lockdown to school shooter drills. Lucas also said some students were harassed by the anti-mask demonstrators outside the school building.
“They’ve gotten pretty wild out here recently. It’s kind of crazy,” Lucas said.
Lucas and other students handed out masks at the school as a counterdemonstration to the far-right activists.