Students walk out to protest library cuts

Students in Windsor walk out of class to protest against the Catholic school board's decision to cut librarians and close libraries.
Students at Brennan High School walked out of class on Monday morning to protest budget cuts impacting Catholic board librarians. (Katia Augustin/CBC News)

Students in Windsor walked out of class Monday to protest against a Catholic school board decision to cut librarians and close libraries.

"I don't like this move by the Catholic school board. It's just ridiculous," Michael Lajoie, an Assumption High School student, told CBC's Early Shift host Tony Doucette. "They're laying off librarians due to budget cuts or no money. I find that a load of bull."

Students at Brennan High School blocked the parking lot entrance with vehicles around 9:30 a.m. local time. About 100 students took part in the demonstration, chanting "We won't go."

Police asked students to move the cars.

"Our librarian's a great help," said Darius Rovere, a Brennan student. "She's an amazing person and she always helps you find what you need bookwise or internet-wise."

Rovere said students in Grades 9 through 12 were participating in the call to see the librarians reinstated.

"We're going to be out here for as long as it takes," he said. "It's an emotional issue."

Casie Chaplin, a Grade 11 student, said the school vice-principal told them it was OK to protest — but not on school property.

"This is just our way of saying, you know, 'School board, this is not right. We are refusing to be in class today because we care and we don't want budget cuts to lay off teachers and cut classrooms'."

Chaplin encouraged other students to write letters to "tell them how mad you are."

St. Anne High School students also walked out of class.

A report by the group People for Education found 56 per cent of elementary schools in the province in 2010 have at least one full- or part-time teacher-librarian, an accredited teacher who has library training. That's down from 80 per cent in 1997/1998, according to the report, which was released Monday morning.

Meanwhile, 66 per cent of secondary schools across the province have at least one teacher-librarian, down from 78 per cent in 2000/2001, when the group first started tracking data for high schools.

A plan is coming: school board

Much of the excitement over the cuts to libraries, or "learning commons," comes because the Catholic School Board has yet to release its plan to replace the current library system.

All the Windsor-Essex Catholic District School Board would say Monday was that the plan would be released at a public board meeting a week from Tuesday.

Board spokesperson Jill Braido said she was optimistic about the board's plans for learning commons areas. She said the commons weren't being mothballed, just reinvented for the way kids learn and do research now.

"The way that we're going to use these areas is going to be much more efficient, much more 21st-century learning," Braido said.

Library books are being "redeployed" to the classrooms, said Braido. The staff being cut are library technicians, responsible for signing out books and equipment.

"I have to hope that at the end of the day, when they see the plan, that parents will still chose to send their children to a Catholic school," she said.

The school board has said that declining enrolment has forced it to make up to $10 million in cuts, including layoffs of classroom teachers and library and secretarial staff.

Gary Wheeler, a spokesperson for the Ministry of Education, said since 2003, the ministry has increased the number of of full-time equivalent teacher-librarians and library technicians by over 12 per cent, from 2,892 in 2002-03 to 3,240 in 2010-11, in addition to a commitment to fund more resource materials for students.

Responding to criticism over the loss of librarians, Education Minister Leona Dombrowsky also said the cuts happened under the watch of the previous Conservative government.