With public high school teachers striking in Durham, Peel and Sudbury, a Grade 12 student at Waterloo-Oxford Secondary School decided to take action to try to prevent the Waterloo Region District School Board from following suit.
Michael Whitehead launched a petition earlier this month, gathering upwards of 100 signatures, calling on the provincial government to reach a solution with the Ontario Secondary School Teachers’ Federation (OSSTF) to prevent a strike in Waterloo Region.
Then he took things a step forward by reaching out to Kitchener-Conestoga MPP Michael Harris, who in turn presented the information to the Ontario Legislature at Queen’s Park in Toronto on Wednesday.
“I was contacted by Michael initially when he sent me an e-mail, obviously as a concerned student, he said.
“Across the province, we’ve seen strike action taken in Durham, Peel and Sudbury with no light at the end of the tunnel on whether teachers will be back in the classroom anytime soon.
“Here in Waterloo Region, the uncertainty surrounding a local strike is causing great concern and stress for students and parents who are afraid this will affect the academic year.”
At Waterloo-Oxford District Secondary School, the academic year is a full term, not semester based, so many Grade 12 students fear they will not receive their full credits in time to be accepted by post-secondary institutions, should a strike take place.
The board has yet to receive notice on whether teachers will be ordered to the picket lines by OSSTF. Ahead of last year’s election, government passed legislation to establish a clear framework for collective bargaining by creating a two-tier process with legally defined roles for the province, trustee associations, and unions. Just one year later, teachers are back on the picket lines and their school boards are now calling on the Labour Relations Board to rule this job action ordered by OSSTF ‘unlawful’ so students can be back in the classroom.
“Students should be in school learning their fundamentals, participating in extracurriculars and be able to carry on with their plans of summer employment or post-secondary school opportunities this fall. At the end of the day, the Liberal government must step up, take responsibility and ensure students are in the classroom with no more disruptions,” said Harris
The petition states that: “Students of the Waterloo Region District School Board would find it difficult to return to class and work effectively if there is an extended strike potentially impacting out summer employment and other plans.
“Grade 12 students in particular are most concerned that with the loss of all their credits this year, a strike could impact their ability to move onto post-secondary school,” the petition says.
Lastly, it calls on the legislature, “to continue and complete, at the earliest possible time, negotiations with the Secondary School Teachers Union so secondary students across the board do not have to worry about their academic futures being compromised by a strike.”
Whitehead, who hopes to study political science at a university next year, says he supports the teacher’s union’s right to labour action, but doesn’t understand why the negotiations – on and off since last summer – are taking so long.
Harris applauded the leadership Whitehead has shown on this issue in his community.
“This is how our democracy should work,” he said. “When concerned citizens contact my office we can put in the motion of how we’re going to relay to the government an important concern.”
Elementary school teachers are also involved in the labour strife, having enacted work-to-rule May 11. WRDSB high school teachers have been in a legal strike position since May 2, but have not signaled plans to take action yet.