Thousands of high school students gathered Thursday outside Queen’s Park holding up banners and placards and chanting “Kill the Bill” and other slogans to show their displeasure with the provincial government’s Bill 115.
Students from across the city staged a walkout Dec. 13, leaving their schools to speak out against the bill, a point of contention in ongoing labour relations between teachers and the province.
In response to the bill, which was dubbed “Putting Students First” and hindered the teachers’ ability to strike, the Ontario Secondary Schools Teachers’ Federation ordered teachers to put a halt to extracurricular activities.
“There are a lot of students who depend on sports scholarships who won’t be able to get them,” said Etobicoke School of the Arts Grade 11 student Lorina Hoxha, one of a large group who rallied students to protest through social media. “Students who need extra help can’t have that, either.”
Fellow Etobicoke School of the Arts Grade 11 student Sia Katsoupa noted the turnout exceeded the organizers’ already-lofty expectations. She said that while much has been made of the battle between the province and teachers, the students have not had much chance to speak out.
“We’re just trying to get the students’ perspective across,” she said. “We want to see some real negotiation going on.”
She added that her school relies largely on extracurriculars.
“Our school is an arts-based school, so it really comes alive after hours,” she said. “The school spirit has dropped completely.”
Students were also collecting signatures on petitions to prompt the province to reconsider Bill 115 and handing out literature encouraging their fellow students to contact their MPPs and informing them as to how to deal with police should the need arise.
The rally was peaceful, with student leaders marshaling their peers and ensuring they maintained a safe distance from Queen’s Park. A contingent of police officers guarded the building, though the rally went on without incident through its early hours.
Harbord Collegiate Grade 9 student Kieran Ball attended to ensure his voice was heard among those of thousands of his peers.
“I think (Bill 115 is) really unfair to teachers and they’re in a holding pattern,” he said. “They’ve had their rights taken away.”
For Monarch Park Collegiate Grade 12 student Yasir Batalvia, the action to end extra-curricular activities could not have come at a worse time for his school.
“We just got a new dome set up and now we can’t use it,” he said. “There’s no track and field, no baseball, no sports.”
He added that many teachers supported the students in their decision to stage a walkout of schools and was hopeful the large turnout would spark some action from the province.
“The turnout here’s large enough to get our voice heard,” he said.
With the students having expressed their displeasure with the ongoing labour battle, teachers are set to stage their own protest. The teachers’ union has sent notice that the province’s elementary and secondary school teachers are planning a one-day walkout on Tuesday, Dec. 18.