Students walk out for teachers
'If they can't exercise their rights, we are going to exercise ours'
Student walk out
Roland Cilliers/North Star
Parry Sound High School students protest against Bill 115, the “Putting Students First Act” on the corner of Joseph and Isabella Streets. More than 200 local high school students took part in a walkout Monday to show support for their teachers, who are currently engaged in a labour dispute with the provincial government.
PARRY SOUND – Parry Sound High School students are standing with their teachers.
A walkout by more than 200 students at Parry Sound High School on Monday was held to show support for teachers during their ongoing labour dispute with the provincial government. Last Thursday, the union representing the local high school teachers voted not to ratify a deal approved by the minister of education and the school board. That meant strike actions are back on, and, among a host of other restrictions, teachers will not be taking part in extra-curricular activities.
Catherine McArton, a PSHS student and one of the walkout’s organizers, said the students wanted to raise awareness about, what she feels, are the unfair terms of Bill 115 - the “Putting Students First Act.”
“It’s in support of the teachers because, basically, they are taking away democratic rights and if they can’t exercise their rights, we are going to exercise ours,” McArton said.
Bill 115 has been central to the ongoing dispute. The bill prohibits teachers from striking for two years, imposes a wage freeze, and makes changes to the quantity of sick days and unpaid holidays that staff are permitted. The province has said the bill will help reduce Ontario’s $15 billion debt. Opponents, including students at the walkout, call the bill undemocratic and unnecessary.
During the walkout, students held up signs that encouraged community members to stand against Bill 115. McArton said she hopes the walkout will get the government to take student views more seriously.
“I’d like to see the government taking our opinions more into consideration and actually considering that students have feelings and their actions do affect us - especially when you’re messing with our education,” McArton said. “If you’re going to mess around with the teachers, it’s going to affect us really badly.”
Students have pointed to the removal of sports and after-school assistance as being severely detrimental to their studies.
In response to those who may believe the students held the walkout because it’s an excuse to skip class, McArton said people can believe whatever they want.
“You can have your own opinion, but students do actually care despite popular belief,” said McArton.
Andy Gagne, principal of Parry Sound High School, who kept an eye on the students during the walkout, said he was impressed with the behaviour of the protesting students.
“I think the kids are behaving extremely well,” said Gagne. “Our most important objective was with student safety and the Environment Canada statement about freezing rain and the adjacent traffic. We’re working with the police and some of the student leaders. They have the right to protest, and they’re doing it in a peaceful, orderly and organized fashion.”
As of Monday, almost every Ontario Secondary School Teachers’ Federation bargaining unit was taking part in new strike actions. Those actions include teachers arriving at school no earlier than 15 minutes before school starts and leaving 15 minutes after the final bell.
Glen Hodgson, district president of the Ontario Secondary School Teachers Federation, said the new actions are in response to the government’s involvement in the collective bargaining process.
“It is more severe, but it is in reaction to the fact that the minister herself has said she’s going to impose a contract on us now,” Hodgson said. “When you impose a contract, we’re no longer going to be allowed to take those measures which have less of an impact on students so she’s forced us to do this because it’s the only thing we have the power to take action on.”
Hodgson said he can’t speak for every union member, but he believes the decision not to ratify the deal was more about Bill 115 than it is about unhappiness with the union or school board. He believes the members were opposing the terms and conditions of Bill 115.
“The deal had to be negotiated under the terms of Bill 115 and under terms and conditions dictated by the minister and then had to be approved by the minister,” said Hodgson.
“It wasn’t really real negotiations and, essentially, Bill 115 still existed within that contract and Bill 115 is the problem. My members just couldn’t accept it.”