HUNTSVILLE – There is still no end in sight to the hiatus on extracurricular activities for students at Muskoka’s high schools.
But Huntsville High School staff and volunteers are pitching in to keep a daily breakfast program available for students, despite strike action being taken by teachers across the province.
“The program had to be changed a little because teachers were no longer doing any voluntary activity. The location of the program has changed to the cafeteria and it’s being run by volunteers and school administration,” said Catherine Shedden, communications manager for Trillium Lakelands District School Board.
Shedden said the breakfast program offers at least three food groups to students each morning before class. Bagels, yogurt and fresh fruit are now available to students in the high school’s cafeteria each morning. Previously, the meal offered more options such as eggs, cheese and smoothies, and was run from the second-floor hospitality department.
Shedden said the school board has breakfast programs in each of its schools because they are important for students’ learning.
“For some, unfortunately, it may be the only opportunity they have to have a healthy breakfast. For others, they get to school early and don’t have time in the morning to eat,” she said. “We also know that a good, nutritious start at the beginning of the day is a wonderful way to help kids concentrate on their studies.”
She said there is no foreseeable reason why the program would be suspended, regardless of the strike action.
The high school breakfast program is funded through the school board, charitable partners and community organizations.
The extracurricular program is continuing amid a whirlwind of controversy around comments made by Education Ministry Laurel Broten last week. The minister had announced plans to impose contracts on teachers.
Ontario Secondary School Teachers Federation Trillium Lakelands president Peter Carroll said teachers will continue to withhold their involvement in sports and after-school activities for the foreseeable future.
Though Broten withdrew Bill 115, its terms were nonetheless imposed upon teachers and school support staff. Education workers have criticized the province’s actions as a power grab that takes away their right to collective bargaining.
“We believe that the government’s actions are certainly going to discourage our members from resuming voluntary activities,” said Carroll. “The government has given them absolutely no reason to be spending hours and hours of their personal time delivering voluntary services to the school community.”
Carroll said the hiatus will likely continue at least until the provincial Liberals find a replacement for premier Dalton McGuinty.
“I can’t see an end to it right at the moment, we would hope that at some point the government might decide to change its policy – we do know there is going to be a new premier,” he said. “Hopefully that person is going to review the situation and come up with a more reasonable approach to the situation.”
Last winter, Bracebridge and Muskoka Lakes Secondary School students staged a walkout in protest of the province’s actions. But they also expressed concerns that the hiatus on extracurricular activities like sports puts their future at risk, as some students are counting on being scouted for athletic scholarships at universities and colleges.
Elementary Teachers Federation of Ontario Trillium Lakelands vice-president Kevin Adam said the local is working on its next steps, but otherwise remained tight-lipped. He said the union is expected to comment sometime later this week.
The union local representing school support workers, however, has seen some progress.
Over the past weekend, Canadian Union of Public Employees (CUPE) heads gave a nod to a tentative agreement with the province, which was struck just shortly before New Year’s Eve.
It is now slated for a ratification vote by union members this Saturday at Archie Stouffer Elementary School in Minden.
Late last year, CUPE members had threatened to walk off the job for a day if Broten began imposing the terms of Bill 115. However, CUPE Local 997 president Lynn Raback said the union is looking to get the tentative agreement out of the way before deciding on what to do about the “guiding principles” behind the province’s actions.
“We did vote in favour of bringing it forward with a recommendation,” she said. “However having said all of that, that was based under the circumstances of the day – it is this which we are bringing forward, or the Minister of Education will be imposing terms upon us.”
Despite the progress, Raback said CUPE and other labour groups will still be battling the province’s actions at a planned rally later this month.
“That does not take away our vehement and adamant concern and issues with regards to Bill 115 and the principles behind that bill, which is basically the stripping of collective agreement bargaining rights and imposing something on people,” she said.
Elementary school teachers were expected to carry out job action today (Friday), by walking off the job.