BY ANDREW SMITH
ONTARIO – Elementary school students across the Avon Maitland District School Board were off on Monday as part of the ongoing dispute between teachers and the provincial government.
Over 10,000 students across the AMDSB were affected by the one-day walkout on Dec. 10, the first teacher strike in nine years in Ontario. Steve Howe, manager of communications for the AMDSB, said the decision from the Elementary Teachers’ Federation of Ontario (EFTO) came as a response to the provincial government’s passing of Bill 115, which he said takes away the rights of teachers for collective bargaining and imposes potential contracts on them.
“They decided about a week and a half ago that they were going to do rotating one day strikes in school boards across the province, and we just happen to be one of the first,” Howe said.
The announcement was made last Wednesday that the rotating one day strikes would start on Monday, and Ontario education minister Laurel Broten said on Friday she wouldn’t take action against the strikes despite having the power under Bill 115. Howe said the even though parents were given 72 hours notice of the teacher strike, it still presented a disruption.
“People then have to make alternate arrangements for child care, there’s always that little scramble and that inconvenience,” he said.
“We’d rather have the students in school, but this protest is one day and it’s not going to set the students back too much.”
Howe said it’s a situation similar to back-up plans used by parents in the case of snow days when schools are closed or buses are cancelled.
“Parents in Huron and Perth County are familiar with what happens during the winter, in that rarely does a winter go by that we don’t have a snow day here and there when schools are closed,” Howe said. “It’s the same kind of plan they have to put into place.”
Some parents are speaking out against the actions being taken by the teachers’ union. Mandy Clugston and Kim Marchment, parents of students in the Waterloo Region District School Board, were picketing downtown Listowel on Monday morning, protesting the involvement of students in the feud between the teachers and government.
“Once teachers figure out you can’t use kids to negotiate what they want, then we’ll get behind the teachers and support them,” Clugston said. “While they are using our kids as pawns, we’re going to make it very clear it’s not acceptable.”
Clugston said they are trying to show the public the other side of the debate, and how the choice to cancel extracurricular activities and strike affects the lives of students and parents.
“A lot of the time the public will get behind the teachers because they’re the little guys compared to the government,” she said. “They don’t realize how far down it’s trickled.”
Marchment, a mother of four boys, said extracurricular activities plays a large part in the academic success of students, including one of her sons.
“He joined football and all of a sudden came home with 80s,” she said. “Now they’ve cancelled rugby and possibly fall football, and I’ll tell you that will make his marks dwindle.”
Howe said the one-day strikes will continue across the province for other school boards, but couldn’t comment on further action that could be taken by EFTO.
“It’s unfortunate it has to come to this, but we have to deal with it and provide the best kind of learning environment we’re able to provide under the circumstances for our students,” he said. “We can only hope that the two sides can come to some sort of resolution, and obviously the sooner the better.”