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Feb 07, 2013  |  Vote 0    0

Riverdale parents working to return extracurriculars to public schools

Toronto group attracting members from throughout Ontario

Beach Mirror

A group of Toronto parents is reaching out to teachers’ unions and government representatives in a bid to return extra-curricular activities to Ontario’s public schools.

Children’s Advocates for Public Education (CAPE) in Ontario was formed by Riverdale parents concerned about the effect of teachers’ labour dispute on students. The group now has more than 100 members from throughout Ontario.

“We really wanted to give voice to our children ... to keep the focus on the impact of the situation on children,” said Andrea Williams, a spokesperson for the group.

“We’re trying to build a bridge between the government and the teachers’ unions so that we can get extracurriculars back into our schools, but also restore the goodwill at our schools.”

Ontario’s public elementary and high school teachers cancelled students’ extracurricular programs to protest Bill 115, an act to implement restraint measures in the education sector dubbed the Putting Students First Act. The legislation imposed two-year contracts that included a wage freeze and reductions in sick days, benefits and bargaining rights. While the bill was repealed in January, teachers continue to protest the contracts it imposed.

Worried a lack of extracurricular activities is negatively affecting students’ lives and opportunities, and Ontario’s schools, CAPE hopes to persuade teachers’ unions and the provincial government to find ways teachers can protest, and feel they are being taken seriously, without hurting students.

To voice its concerns and look for solutions, the group met with Ken Coran, president of the Ontario Secondary Schools Teachers’ Federation, as well as opposition leader Tim Hudak, PC education critic Lisa MacLeod and NDP education critic and Toronto-Danforth MPP Peter Tabuns. It hopes to meet with Ontario’s new education minister, once appointed, as well as a representative of the Elementary Teachers’ Federation of Ontario.

“We continue to contact, to be in touch with leaders of political parties, so that this issue stays on their radar. In a sense we’re really trying to put pressure on all parties to reach a timely solution to minimize the hurt that this is doing to children, and to schools, and I also think to teachers themselves,” Williams said.

“It’s about keeping our public schools strong, and unfortunately, if this goes on there’s going to be longer term damage.”

Williams said she worries the current situation is driving students out of the public school system. She also worries about students whose parents can’t afford to make up for the lack of extracurriculars by enrolling them in programs outside of school.

“A lot of parents can’t do that,” she said. “It’s really tough for low-income families and for single parents to do that for their children, and that seems to us to be really undermining the quality of opportunity, which concerns us.”

She noted not being able to participate in school extracurriculars such as sports could keep students from earning scholarships to attend post-secondary education. As well as sports, other extracurricular cancelled programs include arts, music, science and academic assistance clubs, as well as school trips, dances, concerts and plays.

Group members are optimistic Ontario’s new premier, Kathleen Wynne, will bring a fresh approach to the government’s relationship with its public school teachers.

“If we can work more closely with the unions and the school boards, then we can find ways for teachers that are legal to express their discontent without undermining the quality of our schools,” Williams said.

“We want the schools to be places that are really positive environments for children and teachers. We believe we have fantastic schools in our community, and in this province, and we want to keep them that way.”

For more information on CAPE, visit the group’s Facebook page at http://on.fb.me/11neai2

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