Hundreds of students protest school labour strife
Hundreds of high school students from the Greater Toronto Area converged on Queen's Park Thursday to protest the ongoing labour strife in Ontario's public education system.
Security at the Ontario legislature estimated there were well over 1,000 students on the lawns in front of Queen's Park as of 2:15 p.m.
Many of the students said that they weren't taking a side in the labour standoff; rather, they said they wanted more of a say and that they wanted to make sure their extracurricular activities would not be disrupted further.
But many of them held placards that protested Bill 115, a piece of legislation passed in September that gives the province the power to stop strikes and impose a labour agreement.
Teachers at public high schools are not participating in extracurricular activities like coaching and supervising teams and some administrative work.
"We're trying not to side with anyone in this dispute. If we're on a side, we're on the side of the students," said Marco La Grotta, a student at the Etobicoke School of the Arts who helped organized the protest.
"We are against the bill, but we do sympathize with the government. We understand that cuts need to be made somewhere, but we want to encourage negotiation and we feel like Bill 115 will hinder that process."
Education Minister Laurel Broten said in a statement that she "can certainly understand why students are disheartened.
"I share their concerns, and am disappointed that actions by the public teacher unions have placed students in the middle of this disagreement over pay."
1-day action at York region
The student protest came as the province's series of rotating one-day elementary teacher strikes came to the Toronto area.
About 200 picketers arrived at the York Region District School Board office shortly after 8:30 a.m. Thursday. Teachers also had plans to picket at the offices of seven MPPs.
They marched on the sidewalk holding signs that said "support teachers" and "negotiate, don't legislate."
The one-day action will cancel classes and school bus service throughout the region.
Grade 7 teacher Jerry Vandenberg was on the picket line Thursday and told CBC News he would rather be in class.
"It's very difficult for me to be out of my class and I certainly don’t want to be, but I also think democracy and our rights are more important than some of the minor inconveniences," he said.
York union local president David Clegg said the point of the teachers' action is to get the government’s attention, not inconvenience parents.
"If parents and the public can be objective, they’ll realize this is a government that created this crisis."
Some schools in the region will be open Thursday with administrative staff on hand to supervise students. However, parents are asked not to take their children to school unless they have no other alternative for child care.
The strike is part of rotating one-day walkouts that began this week at school districts across the province. In each case, the union has issued three days' notice ahead of the one-day walkouts.
So far, the Elementary Teachers Federation of Ontario has not said if or when strikes will hit the Toronto District School Board. The TDSB has said that strikes will close its schools, forcing parents to find alternative child care.
The government has said Bill 115 is necessary to curtail spending, but teachers argue the law removes their collective bargaining rights. The legislation is the subject of a court challenge.
Premier Dalton McGuinty has said he will not use the new legislation to stop the rotating strikes so long as they remain limited to one-day walkouts.
With files from The Canadian Press