Students walkout over teacher contract fallout
Hundreds of high school students across Northwestern Ontario waved placards and chanted slogans Thursday to draw attention to the fallout on them from a dispute between the province and their teachers.
The Facebook-planned protests aimed at the McGuinty government’s hard line against teachers’ contracts was monitored by provincial police, but there were no reports of arrests.
In Marathon, about 150 students paraded in front of the town’s high school for a few hours shortly after classes began Thursday morning. Not all students in district schools took part in the protests.
The legislation, which will force teachers to take no pay increases and take away their right to strike by the end of this month, has already been taking a toll at some schools.
Marathon High Grade 12 student Alannah Dart said teachers taking a pass on some volunteer activities has led to a student council not being formed. And the school’s annual drama may be in jeopardy, said Dart.
The legislation “says this is about putting students first, but it’s already having a negative impact on us,” said Dart.
School boards, meanwhile, knew in advance that some students were going to walk out Thursday. They appear to be letting things ride for now and are not imposing any discipline.
Those who walked out were marked absent, said Rainy River District School Board director Heather Campbell. Students under 18 must be in school unless they have a valid reason.
Campbell said she doesn’t think there will be similar protests at her board’s three high schools today.
Asked what she’ll do if the protests continue, Campbell said: “We’ll cross that bridge when we get there.”
Dart’s school board took a similar approach.
“For the most part I was very impressed with the conduct of our students,” said Superior-Greenstone District School Board director David Tamblyn. “They were organized, well behaved and respectful in staging their protest.”
Union officials said they offered to take a wage freeze, and will fight what they see as a violation of labour laws in terms of not being allowed to go on strike and undertake normal collective bargaining.
“Our contract expired in August,” said Paul Caccamo, Thunder Bay-based president of Ontario Secondary School Teachers Federation District 6A.
“It’s normal to continue working under an old contract until a new one is reached.”
The government has said imposed contracts are needed to combat the province’s deficit.
Caccamo said it’s unfair to target the salaries of teaches and other unionized public sector workers.
“We keep hearing about record profits made by banks and corporations, and yet this government keeps giving them tax breaks,” he said.
Caccamo added: “We know the government faces some financial challenges, but let’s sit down and talk about it.”