Ontario's elementary-school teachers won't be the only ones walking out of classrooms next week. The often-silent group at the centre of the dispute between union leaders and the Liberal government will also make its frustrations heard.
Hundreds of high-school students across the province will walk out of their classrooms Monday morning to protest the loss of their sports teams and clubs as teachers ramp up job action.
"It's not a day to skip class. It's a day to make a statement," said Heather Johnson, a Grade 12 student at Bracebridge and Muskoka Lakes Secondary School who helped organize a rally at her school.
Students are frustrated that union leaders and the government haven't been able to resolve their differences, and, as a result, that their school life has been disrupted. From Oakville and Waterloo to cottage country, students have used social media to organize rallies, hoping to send a strong, unified message to politicians at Queen's Park to leave them out of the dispute.
Teachers are angry over government legislation – Bill 115 – that dictates the terms of their contracts and restricts their ability to strike. On Monday, about 1,000 elementary teachers at two small boards – the Avon Maitland District School Board in the Stratford area and the District School Board Ontario North East in Timmins – will start one-day walkouts, the first of the rotating strikes that will close schools. Ottawa elementary schools will shutter Wednesday as teachers walk off the job.
At the high-school level, the teachers' action – which until now has been restricted to administrative duties and supervision outside classrooms – will affect thousands of students who count on extracurricular activities to earn scholarships and strengthen their university applications.
Jack Meyer, a student at Kitchener-Waterloo Collegiate and Vocational School, said students at his school were deflated when they learned their extracurriculars would be cancelled. He plays football and hockey, and sits on the student council.
"A lot of kids come to school because they get to participate in something, they get to feel like they're part of something," said Mr. Meyer, 18. "Unfortunately, those students are going to be losing those bonds that they have with their peers and their coaches, and they may lose the drive to come to school."
Mr. Meyer, along with classmate Andrew Clubine, a student trustee, have organized a rally Monday afternoon that is expected to draw about 1,000 students from the area's high schools. The students say they are not taking sides in the matter; they just want peace in Ontario's school system.
In Oakville and Burlington, students at a handful of high schools will leave their classrooms Monday morning with protest signs. Neha Bhasin, a Grade 12 student at Oakville Trafalgar High School, said the point of the rally is for both union leaders and Education Minister Laurel Broten to understand the effect this labour unrest is having on students. "We're trying to encourage both parties to work it out without dragging the students into it," said Ms. Bhasin, who helped organize the rally at her school.
Ms. Bhasin plays flute for the school band, and she's on the rugby team and student council. All her extracurriculars will be cancelled during the job action.
"To me, it's almost taking away the best part of what school is," she said. "They [the government and unions] don't realize how much of an impact it truly is having on students."