Students launch petition, plan trip to legislature to support Sask. teachers as sanctions loom

Alongside demonstrations set for Wednesday at the legislature, a petition calling on the government to meet teachers' demands has also started circulating, surpassing 1,000 signatures in less than 24 hours.

Sask. Teachers' Federation says it will not provide voluntary, extracurricular services as of Thursday

Wolseley High School student Hunter Watson, who plays basketball in Indian Head, says students from her team will be travelling to Regina to let elected officials know they support the province's teachers, who are implementing sanctions in Saskatchewan schools. (Submitted by Hunter Watson )

Basketball has always been a huge part of Hunter Watson's life. She's spent hundreds of hours on the court, investing her time and effort in a sport she loves.

But now, just as she was set to reap the rewards of her hard work in the form of potential scholarships and a shot at a provincial championship, the Grade 12 student at Wolseley High School has been left in limbo.

On Monday, the Saskatchewan Teachers' Federation, which is involved in an ongoing contract dispute with the province, announced it will be implementing sanctions at Saskatchewan schools. Those sanctions include not providing any voluntary or extracurricular services, as of Thursday.

As a result, the Saskatchewan High School Athletics Association (SSHAA) issued a release indicating that basketball playoffs in the province would only continue if the sanctions were lifted before 3:30 p.m. on Wednesday.

If the sanctions remain, all remaining playoffs will be cancelled due to lack of teacher involvement, the loss of the qualification process and constraints on schools and host sites. This includes the Hoopla provincial championship, set for March 19 to 21.

The cancellation, according to the SSHAA, would affect 1,700 students, 300 coaches and an assortment of other agencies.

Hunter Watson says losing extracurricular activities at this point in the school year would hurt many students. (Submitted by Hunter Watson)

Watson — who lives in Wolseley, a town about 95 kilometres east of Regina, but plays basketball at nearby Indian Head through a co-op program — said the fact the basketball season may be over is a scary thought.

She was hoping to perform well in front of scouts looking for the next round of Saskatchewan Athletes.

Students travelling to legislature

Now, with the remainder of the season looking uncertain, she's feeling uneasy.

"It's been a huge commitment and something we love," she said. "We're just reaching the point in our season where we're going to get the benefits, like get to our playoffs and kind of see the reward of all the work we've put in."

Watson said it was emotional for her team when they heard playoffs may be cancelled, so they decided to use that emotion to make their voices heard — with dozens of basketball players from Indian Head planning to travel to the Saskatchewan Legislature in Regina on Wednesday.

She said her team is putting their support behind the province's teachers and is calling on the government to ensure issues important to teachers are addressed.

"I know it's hurt my coach just as much as it's hurting me, because he wants to see me get these things and us get these opportunities that Hoopla can bring," she said.

Watson said she's calling on students from across Saskatchewan to come to the legislature on Wednesday — including not just student athletes, but any student who has benefited from extracurricular activities. The group has started the hashtag "#GiveusEC," or "extracurricular," to spread the message online.

"We're just trying to let them see how many people this is really affecting," Watson said.

Petition surpasses 1,000 signatures

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.

Saskatchewan Teachers' Federation president Patrick Maze says while the sanctions will cause inconvenience for parents and students alike, the job action is needed. (Alexis Lalament/CBC News)

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.

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."

Education Minister Gordon Wyant says teachers are 'walking away from kids.' (CBC News)

Watson is not the only student who is putting her support behind Saskatchewan teachers. A petition calling on the government to meet teachers' demands has also started circulating, surpassing 1,000 signatures in less than 24 hours.

Laticia Beaulieu, a Grade 12 student in Swift Current who started the petition at the website, said she was impressed by how quickly the petition gained support, noting she and some of her classmates were initially excited the petition had reached 20 signatures.

"We were talking and we were, like, 'It would be awesome if maybe we can get 100 [signatures],'" she said.

Beaulieu said a lot of people who have been signing are students.

"It's not just adults who are concerned about this," she said. "It's not just older people and I think it's really important that the voice of a younger generation is speaking up on such an important issue."

Beaulieu hopes the government will eventually acknowledge the petition. If it continues to grow, she says, it will be impossible to ignore, noting petition milestones — like hitting 1,000 signatures — are being sent to Saskatchewan Premier Scott Moe.

"You can't ignore 1,000 people wanting this change," she said. "I feel like if it goes ignored, then that's a real issue."

'So heartbroken'

Payton Zillich, a Grade 12 student at Aden Bowman Collegiate in Saskatoon, says the loss of extracurricular activities has left her feeling "so heartbroken."

"A lot of these extracurriculars that I'm in are things that I've worked for since I was in Grade 9, or things that I began to participate in since elementary school," she said.

She said she, like many others, hoped the activities she participates in would help her with her post-secondary applications. 

"I'm watching now as all of my friends are struggling to pick up the pieces.… They relied on their activities for scholarships or college applications," she said.

She also noted that the activities provide students with a safe place to spend time, adding many of the extracurricular groups are like family for those involved.

"To take this away from the students and not give them the opportunity to have those outlets is just terrible."

Cameron and Qunn Prior, students at Aden Bowman Collegiate in Saskatoon, say they are putting their support behind Saskatchewan's teachers. (Morgan Modjeski/CBC)

Quinn Prior, a Grade 12 student at Aden Bowman, said they are also putting their support behind the teachers.

"If this is what teachers have to do to get fair compensation, it will be worth it," they said. "Teachers don't make enough and are pretty underappreciated."


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