By Narda Elvidge
For the Confederate
The fight between the Government and Ontario teachers took a new twist with en masse student ‘walk-outs’ taking place across the province last week, including at Grey Highlands Secondary School in Flesherton.
The GHSS are outraged at the thought of losing their school sports as well as other extracurricular activities as the dispute over Bill 115 escalates.
Liberal Premier Dalton McGunity’s government, with the support of the Conservatives, initiated Bill 115, which was passed on Sept. 11. The Bill imposes wage freezes, unpaid holidays and halves sick days for Ontario teachers. It also prohibits the teachers from striking for a minimum of two years. This is all in an effort to reduce the province’s $15-billion debt. By imposing this contract on teachers, the government is effectively removing their collective bargaining rights.
The students are caught in the middle of a labour dispute without a voice. They are not taking issue with their teachers but say they need the Government and the public at large to understand the impact this is having on them.
GHSS students, dressed in sport jerseys, school shirts and school colours held a ‘walk-out’ on Thursday afternoon. They carried sports equipment and picket signs onto the football field and shouting “No Sports – No School” and “Fight, Fight, Fight – For Democratic Rights”
Three students at the forefront of Thursday’s walk-out spoke about their concerns and the impact on the student body as a whole if extracurricular activities are cancelled.
Jessica Hase came up with the idea to do a ‘walk-out’ on Tuesday, leaving a small window of opportunity to organize it.
“I started talking to people. I spoke to about 20 people and then decided that ‘OK, we’re going to do this’. Someone made a group on Facebook and then we just started to add people,” she said.
Student Brooklynne Hill took it upon herself to contact media – news networks, newspapers and online avenues were explored and invited. Try as they might to keep this ‘walk-out’ private it wasn’t long before the teachers became aware of the plans.
“We met with the principal today and her main concern was the student’s safety. We ensured her that everything would run smoothly and our intentions were positive,” she said.
The students support their teachers but the feeling of being a pawn in the middle of a dispute between the provincial government and the teachers union is horribly unfair.
“We are behind the teachers,” Brooklynne said. “We are supporting them and we respect them. We just don’t think it’s fair that the government is necessarily doing this to them; it puts the students in an awkward position.”
Sport is an important element in any school setting, promoting health and fitness while instilling a love of sport and bringing students together for a common purpose.
“Sports aren’t about just winning; they’re about being a team. There are people who sit by themselves every day and don’t talk to a single person; but they like to play soccer. Or someone who isn’t in the popular group at school but playing sports brings them together as a team,” said student Katelyn Poersch. “Not only will the bullying rate go up with cancelling all these extracurricular sports but we’ll miss out on dances and coffee houses.”
If extracurricular activities are cancelled for the year, one segment of the student body will be missing out on the full ‘high school experience’.
“I feel really sad for the grade nine’s because coming into a new school they want to meet new people and one of the ways that you do that is through extracurricular activities; they won’t have the opportunities that we’ve had,” Brooklynne said. “Also, as a senior in Grade 12 all of your chances at a scholarship will be taken away because there will be no extracurricular activities.”
Being the first girl to play football at GHSS, Katelyn Poersch has lived a dream by taking part in a sport she loves.
“I live on a farm. I go home, I work on the farm and I go to bed. I have nothing else. I would have a football practice or a basketball practice after school and that’s the highlight of my day, and now they want to take that away from me,” she said. “They say the bullying rate is high now but as soon as you get rid of extracurricular activities it will go up so much more.”
The students wish to be taken seriously on this issue. Their ultimate goal is to see this dispute resolved and all after school programs returned to normal as soon as possible. Future action may be required if an unsatisfactory result is brought down.
“It’s affecting the students, and we’re the only ones that honestly don’t get a say in this,” Brooklynne said. “People think we’re just children because we want our sports, they don’t think about the consequences. They don’t think we’re very well informed. I’d like the public; I’d like everybody to know all across Ontario, that we have a right to an opinion.”
Jessica Hase added, “I just want the Government to notice us because there are a lot of us- and when teachers can’t do anything we have to be the voice.”
The school officials at GHSS were supported by a small contingent of OPP officers during the ‘walk-out’ to ensure the safety of both students and staff. At the same time members of the media were not allowed on school property to meet with students during the ‘walk-out’. Media were relegated to a neighbouring cemetery in order to speak to the students at the fence line.
GHSS Principal Andrea Tang made the school stance on the event clear to the media in attendance.
“It’s not a school sanctioned event,” she said. “We do respect the students desire to have their voice heard in this process and we’re focusing on keeping everyone safe during the event. That’s really our primary concern.”