WATERLOO REGION —
Some local students are feeling the heat between teachers and the provincial government.
At Margaret Avenue Public School — a Grade 7 and 8 school in Kitchener — one parent is raising concerns about the cuts to extracurricular activities as a result of the teachers’ protest of the province’s Bill 115 legislation.
“Really, the kids are going to school and that’s it,” said Mardi Witzel, whose son is in Grade 7 at the school.
The school band, clubs and intramural sports are among the activities affected, according to Witzel.
Bill 115, passed in September, freezes teachers’ wages for two years, with the exception of those moving through the salary grid. The legislation also imposes cuts to sick days and takes away teachers’ right to strike.
In response to the legislation, the Elementary Teachers’ Federation of Ontario released a statement “urging” its 76,000 members to “take a pause” on voluntary activities such as extracurricular programs for students.
Witzel said she understands both sides of the contract dispute but doesn’t think students should be disadvantaged.
“At Margaret Avenue (parents) have a lot of respect for the principal and the teachers,” she said. “We’re just very disappointed that in a disagreement that is between government and unions … students are the inadvertent targets.”
Brian Ward, principal of Margaret Avenue Public School, chose not to comment on the issue or clarify how extracurricular activities are being affected.
According to information from the Waterloo Region District School Board, the board is unable to require teachers to fulfil any volunteer activities.
The choice to volunteer with activities remains in the hands of individual teachers as it always does, said Greg Weiler, president of the local district for the elementary federation.
“Depending on the school you’re talking about, it will probably be the same as always during the day,” he said, adding the union doesn’t track if and how activities have changed at each school in the region.
Speaking about academics, Weiler said that teachers remain focused on the classroom.
With two other sons at Lexington Public School and a daughter at Bluevale Collegiate Institute, Witzel is experiencing first-hand how different the approaches of the elementary and secondary teachers’ unions are affecting schools.
At both Bluevale and Lexington, Witzel said extracurricular activities are occurring regularly.
Unlike the elementary teachers, the Ontario Secondary School Teachers’ Federation is in a position to strike. As a result, teachers began imposing job action by dropping administrative duties like attending meetings on Monday.
Extracurricular activities at secondary schools are not being affected by the job action.
For Witzel, she hopes teachers and parents at Margaret Avenue Public School can find common ground to recreate extracurricular opportunities for students while still allowing teachers to take a stand.
“(Parents) don’t want to weigh in on the politics of this issue,” she said. “Our interest is in working with the teachers to re-establish the programming that has been limited or eliminated.”
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