Waterloo Region elementary school students protest teacher dispute
Students at Margaret Avenue Public School in Kitchener, MacGregor Public School and Lester B. Pearson Public School in Waterloo, staged protests Monday morning over the increasingly disruptive labour dispute between government and teachers.
A student speaker from Margaret Avenue Public School told CBC News that the protest, staged as classes began on Monday, was about the effect that the interruption and in some cases cancellation of extra-curricular activities was having on students. "We want them back," the student said in a call to CBC.
"The minister, the Board of Education, the MPPs," shouldn't "lay everything on the students," she said.
In response to the protests, the Ontario Ministry of Education said it is focusing on negotiations to avoid further job action.
"We want our students and teachers to be in the classroom focused on learning. Extracurriculars are a very important part of teachers' and students' school year experience. It is regrettable that ETFO is continuing to participate in job action that has a direct impact on our students," the ministry said in a written statement to CBC Kitchener-Waterloo.
Students are refusing to go to class, instead congregating in school hallways and staging sit-in protests, said officials with the Waterloo Region District School Board, adding that administration and teachers are monitoring the students.
Where possible, classes are continuing but some have been delayed based on the number of students absent.
"The students have been very polite, very respectful and are exercising their civic responsibility due to the issue around extra-curricular activities perhaps stopping on Wednesday," said Marty Deacon, executive officer of engagement and communications for the school board.
"We're hopeful that we get to our classrooms, and back to learning tomorrow," said Deacon.
The majority of students participating are between the ages of 11 and 13 and are in grades seven and eight.
On Friday, the Waterloo Region District School Board posted information about extracurricular activities on its website.
"Beginning Wednesday, Oct. 28, 2015, elementary teachers and occasional teachers will withdraw from all voluntary extracurricular activities in Ontario public schools, as directed by ETFO provincially," the posting stated.
"Extracurricular activities occur outside of instructional time, either before or after school or during nutrition breaks. Examples of these activities include clubs, sports teams, choirs, and bands. ETFO has indicated that breakfast programs and Remembrance Day activities will not be impacted by this increase in job action," the website explained.
Teachers union reacts
Local ETFO president Greg Weiler said up until Wednesday "anything is possible," with negotiations ongoing between the union and the province.
"We remain confident that an agreement can be reached if all the parties want that to happen," Weiler said.
When asked about Monday's student protests, Weiler said it is the school board's responsibility.
"I would be concerned anytime students aren't in class," Weiler said.
"That being said, I think it's up to the school board... we represent the teachers so I wouldn't presume to get involved with how they're handling that part of it."