Etobicoke trustees helped frustrated parents put into context a situation that continues to “cast a long shadow” over their children’s school year – teachers’ continued withdrawal from extracurricular activities – at a joint forum this week at Lambton Kingsway JMS.
Co-hosted by Etobicoke-Lakeshore Trustee Pamela Gough and Etobicoke Centre Trustee Chris Glover, the two-hour “Bill 115: What does it mean for my school?” forum saw special guest speaker Annie Kidder, executive director of People for Education, and a panel of parent and student leaders discuss the ongoing ramifications of the contentious Putting Kids First Act.
The issue top of mind for most in attendance at Tuesday’s standing-room-only forum was extracurriculars. Although Bill 115 was officially repealed by the Liberal government last week, teachers’ unions have not let up on the extracurricular ban – a protest against a bill they say stripped them of their democratic bargaining rights – and so students are still feeling the resultant loss of their activities outside the classroom.
Kidder cautioned parents gathered in the Lambton Kingsway library not to assume that just because they’re called “extra” curriculars, that their children’s out-of-classroom teams and clubs are considered in any way expendable – “because they are a core component of education and it’s important to take them seriously,” she said.
The goal of Tuesday’s forum, Gough said, was not to point fingers at one side or the other, but to talk about how best to deal with those most effected by the job action – the students.
“We’re here to discuss Bill 115 not from the framework of the teachers and not from the framework of the province – we’re here to discuss it from the framework of the students who have been most impacted and their parents,” she said, cautioning parents that the forum was designed as a non-partisan one. “We’re here to talk about it from the point of view of the people who are caught in the middle.”
Kidder said one of the other big concerns with the ongoing labour tensions is the toll that nervous energy between teachers and administration is having on school spirit.
“Because that school climate has an impact on student success, too. When we talk about that slow growing sense of tension between principals and teachers, teachers and each other, that can certainly cause a crack in the school climate,” she said. “School spirit sounds kind of airy fairy, but it’s really, really a very serious and important part of education. That’s why it’s so urgent that something gets done now...and why it’s incumbent on the grown-ups to get back to the table, to find a little give-and-take, and to find a way to put this behind us.”
David Chudoba, chair of both the Broadacres and Hollycrest school councils, said he’s already seen those tensions trickle down to middle school students, many of whom are mourning the loss of not only their sports teams and clubs, but also their much-anticipated Grade 8 graduation field trips.
“There’s a lot of frustration and you can sense that coming off the kids – they’re fed up. And when you’ve got 12- and 13-year-olds fed up – when they’re expressing that feeling that they’re frustrated and asking ‘why are we the victims?’ – that means a lot,” he said.
Given the popular belief in the importance of extracurriculars to children’s education, one father in the crowd questioned why only one portion of his children’s education – the classroom component – is considered mandatory, while the other – the social, extracurricular part – is classified as voluntary.
“Personally I don’t understand how we’re in a system where half (a teacher’s) job is voluntary and the other half is part of the job. I just don’t understand it,” he said. “We all recognize a well-rounded student needs both, so why doesn’t the job description include both?”
Kidder, however, cautioned against the suggestion that teachers start to get paid for their voluntary extracurricular commitments, stating that it could lead to a situation of inequity between students and schools – especially if that discussion leads to the suggestion that students be charged extra fees for their participation.
“Let’s not cut off our noses to spite our faces right now to deal with this problem, because I think we’re in danger of moving to a whole other system where we kind of privatize extracurricular activity,” she warned.
As for what’s next, Kidder said there’s hope that former education minister Kathleen Wynne’s selection as Ontario’s new premier will go a long way towards easing labour tensions with teachers – and a final resolution so that kids can get back to the fun stuff.
“New faces will help...especially a new premier who really knows this file incredibly well, and who personally knows the people around the table and what those people are asking for is getting back to that table,” she said, suggesting a cabinet shuffle resulting in a new education minister is also a likely development. “That said, the premier has already said she’s not going to rip up that contract, so it’s unrealistic for anyone to think that’s ever going to happen. If that’s what we’re waiting for, then our kids will have two years of more of the same.”