Flesherton students walk out in protest 0
Students at Grey Highlands Secondary School in Flesherton protest during school hours Thursday over concerns about the fate of extra curricular activities during the ongoing dispute over Bill 115 between teachers and the provincial government.
Students at the high school and the elementary school in Flesherton turned out Thursday to protest what’s happening in education in Ontario.
More than 800 students at Grey Highlands Secondary School poured out of the school and into the sports field at the back of the school at 2 p.m. to protest the loss of some extracurricular activities during the dispute between teachers and the provincial government over Bill 115.
They chanted slogans such as “fight, fight for democratic rights” and waved banners that read “115 ruins school spirit,” “teachers and students stand together” and “McGuinty stop being a bully.”
At the same time, a few blocks away, about 60 elementary school students at Ecole Macphail Memorial School held their own protest on the sports field under the watchful eye of principal Kara Bowles.
At Grey Highlands, some members of the girls rugby team were dressed in team uniforms to emphasize their concerns they may not get a chance to play this year. Some, but not all, extracurricular activities have been cancelled at Grey Highlands because of the lack of volunteer supervision.
“The teachers could have prevented this pretty easily, but I think Dalton McGuinty handled this the wrong way also,” said Kaely O’Neill, a member of the rugby team. She said if the situation doesn’t improve, students will protest again.
“We’re extremely upset. This is our senior year. This is when our rugby team gets to go to more than an occasional tournament a year. We get to play in a league and could get to go to OFSAA . All of the girls want to try and make that happen again this year and everyone has been looking forward to it since school went out,” said Georgia Lavender another member of the girls rugby team.
Lavender says she understands that teachers are not able to strike or protest and refusing to volunteer for extracurricular activities is one of the few ways they have to show their opposition to Bill 115.
“This is the only way they can fight back . . . this (student protest) is a way to help them help us to better our future and everyone else’s,” Lavender said
Some students are concerned that the withdrawal of extracurricular activities will spread and continue throughout the year.
“We want a prom. Ever since going into Grade 9 every girl has been thinking about a prom. To say that we can’t have a prom or any dances, that’s not fair,” said Kylie McSorley, who is angry at the government for its austerity measures that underlie cuts to education.
A spokesperson for the high school’s student union stressed that the protest was not sanctioned by the union but was organized by students.
Grey Highlands principal Andrea Tang noted the protest was not a school sanctioned event and that the Tang said the presence of a handful of OPP officers was just to support school officials and ensure student and staff safety.
“Our primary concern is how do we respond in a way to keep the students and staff safe. They are behaving responsibly; they are responding when we ask them to get down off each other’s shoulders,” she said.
She said that students have the right to have their voices heard and wouldn’t speculate as to what would happen if some students continued the protest throughout the semester.
Tang also said several extracurricular activities, such as basketball, football and volleyball, have been going on .
“Yes teachers have been out supervising extracurricular activities. We have a band practice, we have a football scrimmage on Friday,” she said.
Cheryl Pedersen, whose son Kyle plays rugby at GHSS, came out to support the student protest.
“We feel like it shouldn’t be happening to the students. The teachers’ union and the government can do their battle, but don’t take the kids and use them as pawns. It just doesn’t seem fair to me,” she said.
School authorities wouldn’t let media personnel or visitors on school property to meet with students during the protest. Everyone had to stay in the cemetery next door to the school and talk to students at the fence.
At Macphail, Bowles said students from mostly Grades 6, 7, and 8 also wanted to voice their opposition to the lack of some extracurricular activities at their school.
“It’s a voluntary activity and in a volunteer activity teachers decide every year. This year there have been fewer volunteers,” said Bowles, who wouldn’t say which activities are not going ahead.
Bowles said she got wind of students’ plans to hold a demonstration and set some guidelines to ensure student safety.
“Children had a chance to have their voice heard. We made sure the students were safe,” said Bowles, who stressed that she won’t allow another student protest.
“We’ll allow this to happen once because you do need to have your voice heard . . . this isn’t going to be a regular occurrence. Our job is educate students, we’re going to do that. Obviously this was a disruption . . . We’re not going to have this happen several times,” she said.