Student council, sports, plays and field trips may not be completely lost for local high school students.
After three long months, Grand Erie District School Board teachers have been given the go-ahead from the Ontario Secondary School Teachers’ Federation to resume extra-curricular and volunteer activities.
“It was Friday that the vote was taken among the local leaders in Toronto and the message went out on Friday that if they wished to engage in voluntary or extra-curriculars, go ahead if you want,” said Bruce Hazlewood, teacher bargaining unit president for OSSTF District 23, representing Grand Erie.
“The message we got is this olive branch would be useful for us to be able to continue to have an open and protected dialogue with the negotiators from the provincial government.”
But that doesn’t mean teachers will resume all extra-curriculars at all schools, Hazlewood said.
“Basically, since Jan. 3 we have not been in a legal strike position, so we haven’t been able to tell (the teachers) to do volunteer activities or not, either way,” he said. “The decision is still up to them. It has been up to them since Jan. 3.”
At the beginning of the new year, the provincial government imposed a two-year contract on public school teachers using the powers of Bill 115, a move that raised the ire of public teachers across Ontario.
The union urged its members not to take part in extra-curricular activities, saying Bill 115 represented an assault on collective bargaining rights.
Hazelwood said polls indicate that 20 per cent of Ontario teachers are ready to get back to volunteer activities and 20 per cent are strongly against the move. He said it will be up to union members to decide whether or not they will resume extra-curriculars.
“It wasn’t an easy decision for them to make when they withdrew their volunteer activities and it will probably be an equally difficult decision as to whether or not to return,” he said.
Some teachers in the Grand Erie board returned to their volunteer activities on Monday and local students are feeling relief.
“I joined students council because I wanted to be a part of what was going on in my school,” said North Park Collegiate student council vice president Nick Owen. “When the extra-curriculars were taken away, I was so disappointed because it meant that our council could not do our job to make school fun. Now that they are back, we can catch up on everything we missed out on and make the school a fun place to be once again.”
In a statement released to media, GEDSB chair Rita Collver applauded the OSSTF for encouraging its members to resume extra-curricular activities.
“Student participation in these activities offers a greater sense of belonging, increases engagement and improves overall success in school,” Collver said. “We appreciate that students, parents and the community have demonstrated patience during this time of uncertainty in our schools.
“We look forward to continuing to work with our local union leaders to re-engage in student clubs, sports and other activities to provide the best education possible.”
– With files from Krysten McCumber.