Brant public high school teachers this week joined fellow members of the Ontario Secondary School Teachers’ Federation in stepping up their fight against Bill 115, otherwise known as the Putting Students First Act.
On Monday, Ontario public high school teachers and support staff – including those working within the Grand Erie District School Board – began a boycott of extracurricular activities. Rotating one-day strikes are also underway in parts of the province, which we should expect to eventually reach Brant if labour unrest between teachers and the province continues. And it seems it will considering the current state of affairs between teachers and the government.
The extracurricular boycott means any activities not related to curriculum that teachers help facilitate – including sports, school plays, clubs and field trips – are off for the time being. Sadly, it seems students can count themselves among the first to pay a price for this ongoing labour dispute.
Of greatest concern to the teachers’ union is the fact that Bill 115 – currently being challenged in the courts by education unions – will give the education minister the power to impose contracts on teachers and support staff. That, they say, is a blatant attack on cherished collective bargaining rights that all Ontarians should have a right to.
“I think students and parents and the community members will understand that if we are not vigilant and don’t fight for our rights, these rights can be taken away with a stroke of a pen,” Leslie Wolfe, executive officer for the provincial executive of the Ontario Secondary School Teachers’ Federation, told Brant News last week.
We agree, the power to impose a contract does seem heavy-handed, but we’d like to think there might be a better way to fight Bill 115 than taking away extracurricular activities that students rely on to remain active, learn and become engaged members of their school and wider communities. Keeping the fight in the courts, as Premier Dalton McGuinty has suggested, seems a good idea to us.
In this week’s Brant News, some local students facing the cancellation of high school sports, club meetings and events say they feel cheated by their teachers’ job action. But feeling cheated by the extracurricular boycott hasn’t turned many students against their teachers. Instead, groups of students rallied against Bill 115 – and in support of their teachers – in front of Brantford high schools this week. If it not for Bill 115, the students say, teachers would not be forced into withdrawing support to extracurricular activities.
“It’s about standing up for ourselves and our staff and administration,” said Grade 10 BCI student Travis Swift. “I want to see a change. I don’t want to see this bill go into effect and affect our teachers and us. We want to take a stand and stop this from happening.”
North Park student athlete Courtney Lukawiecki said her fellow students are “pretty upset” about the way the labour dispute is unfolding.
“We are all trying to keep up with the news because we don’t want to be one-sided and get mad,” she said. “So we are trying to be understanding of it and get past that. And then we all are just hoping that we can get back on the court.”
We, too, want to see local high school athletes back on the court, local high school actors back on the stage and members of local high school clubs making a difference in their communities. But with the teachers’ union and provincial government both seemingly entrenched in their positions, we’re not confident that will happen anytime soon. And that’s a shame because Ontario students are caught in the middle.
Considering its impact on students, it’s time for the teachers’ union and provincial government to resolve this dispute. Because things getting worse before they get better would certainly not be in anyone’s best interest, especially Ontario’s students.