Saskatoon

STF sanctions throw student-focused events across province into flux

Thousands of students and families across the province will be affected by the sanctions both in and out of school.

Sanctions could affect band festival, Kinsmen Indoor Games, cheerleading championships and more

The Saskatchewan Teachers' Federation logo can be seen outside of the STF's main offices in Saskatoon on Feb. 25, 2020. (Morgan Modrzejewski/CBC)

Band concerts, cheerleading competitions, athletic meets and various student-focused events are all experiencing uncertainty as a result of sanctions set to be implemented by the Saskatchewan Teachers' Federation (STF).

Earlier this week the STF announced they would be implementing sanctions that will see teachers no longer doing any voluntary or extracurricular work, leaving students in limbo when it comes to extracurricular activities.

The sanctions have already created uncertainty for the province's high-school basketball and badminton season, but numerous other events have also been thrown into flux.

Saskatchewan Athletics, which supports track and field in the province, said the Kinsmen Indoor Games, set for March 13 to 14 in Saskatoon, will be a smaller event this year due to the fact elementary relay athletes won't be taking part. 

"These kids have been training all year and have been doing meets along the way and this is a meet they won't be able to attend," said Bob Reindel, executive director of Saskatchewan Athletics.

He explained while other categories in the event will continue, energy levels in 2020 won't be the same.

"It'll definitely drop down," he said. "The noise level will drop down, the excitement."

Band festival scrambling

Organizers of the Optimist Band Festival, which is Saskatchewan's longest running and largest band festival, say they're scrambling to ensure the event, set for March 24 to 27 in Regina, goes ahead in wake of the sanctions. 

"It's a big blow to the kids," said Lyle Merriam, secretary treasurer of the event.

"We're probably looking at losing probably half of our bands that are currently registered."

Musicians can be seen performing at the Optimist Band Festival in Regina, which is Saskatchewan's largest and longest-running band festival. Organizers say they're expecting to see about half of the bands registered for the festival drop out due to Saskatchewan Teachers' Federation sanctions. (Supplied/Optimist Band Festival)

The Saskatchewan Teachers' Federation has been without a contract since August 2019. In November of last year, it declared the government and teachers had reached an impasse in negotiations.

The two parties participated in conciliation earlier this year, but it failed to bring the two parties together.

In early February, more than 96 per cent of teachers took part in a sanctions vote, with 90 per cent voting in favour of a job action mandate.

Education Minister Gordon Wyant speaks with reporters about a meeting between his ministry, the Saskatchewan Teachers' Federation and the Saskatchewan School Boards Association on Tuesday morning, Feb. 25, 2020. The meeting came one day after the teachers voted in favour of taking job action. (CBC News)

On Monday, STF president Patrick Maze said while the sanctions will cause inconvenience for parents and students alike, the action is needed in order to get the province to "step up."

Classroom composition and makeup has been a sticking point for the teachers, while the Ministry of Education doesn't feel the issue should be part of contract bargaining.

Education Minister Gordon Wyant said on Monday he was "disappointed" with the sanctions and accused teachers of walking away from negotiations and conciliation, saying they are now "walking away from kids."

Other sporting events in the province are also worried about what kind of effect sanctions will have on their showing here in Saskatchewan, but also on the international stage as well.

STF president Patrick Maze says the government admits there is a problem but refuses to address it. (Alexis Lalament/CBC News)

Alissa Stewart is executive director of the Saskatchewan Cheerleading Association. She said the sanction will have an effect on provincial cheerleading championships, set to take place in Warman on March 21. 

Stewart said this year's event could be short roughly 30 teams from school cheer and dance troupes from across Saskatchewan who won't be able to compete due to the sanctions. She said they're still determining whether or not to cancel this portion of the event. 

She said one of the main concerns for coaches and organizers is athlete safety. 

"Even if we can carry on with the event, our cheer teams may not be able to participate because going a whole week without practice becomes a safety issue when you're throwing athletes in the air," she said.

The Yorkton Regional High School Cheer Team was just one of two Saskatchewan teams who had a strong showing at the 2020 World High School Cheerleading Championships. Officials with the Saskatchewan Cheerleading Association say they may have to cancel the high school cheer and dance team portion of their provincial finals, set for March 21, due to sanctions put in place by the Saskatchewan Teachers' Federation. (Supplied/Alissa Stewart)

She said cancellation of the school category would also result in cheer teams missing a chance to go to the World High School Cheerleading Championships in 2021, an event Saskatchewan had a strong showing at last year.

"It's very disappointing for the teachers, the coaches and the athletes that are involved," said Stewart.

Students across Saskatchewan have been hit by the sanctions and Darlene Briere, executive director of the Saskatchewan Drama Association, said this holds true for students taking part in extracurricular musical and drama programs.

She's been hearing that it "is not business as usual" across the province, as most of the work is extracurricular.

"They practice after school, they practice during lunch time, they practice during weekends so there's no rehearsals going on," she said. 

She said some schools may be looking to cancel their performances if teacher volunteers aren't able to help coordinate and organize the events, leaving some students crushed. 

"They put their heart and soul into these productions and they've been working on these productions since the fall," she said.

"It's very disappointing. I've had teachers tell me they've had students in tears because these productions are not going forward."

She said the SDA's Student One-Act Festivals were actually set to start on March 19, but if sanctions remain, they festival will likely be cancelled, marking the first time the SDA has had to cancel due to teacher action in its 41-year-history.

Doug Gibson, coordinator of the National Archery in the Schools Program for the Saskatchewan Wildlife Federation, said they expect to see an effect on two archery events set for April, and said they'll be watching the situation closely.

"I would really like to see the tournaments go on," he said.

"Our provincial tournament, I checked this morning, we've got 700 kids registered to shoot and we're not even at the end of our registration date yet, so we're probably going to be around that 900 to hopefully 1,000 student archers that are registered."

School divisions in Saskatchewan's major urban centres have already been working to inform family members about the sanctions and how they will affect students at school.

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