Hundreds of area high school students took to the streets Monday to protest being caught in the middle of a labour dispute between teachers and the Ontario government.
Walk-outs were held at Lambton Kent District School Board secondary schools in communities including Chatham, Wallaceburg, Ridgetown, Blenheim and Dresden. The protests were held as high school teachers began heightened job action that includes not participating in extra-curricular and volunteer activities after school hours.
Teachers' unions are upset Bill 115, the Putting Students First Act, has legislated wage freezes and a reduction of sick days, circumventing the collective bargaining process.
Students staged loud, but respectful protests in front of their schools.
A long row of students lined up along McNaughton Ave. E. in front of Chatham-Kent Secondary School just before noon. Cheers rang out as several passing vehicles honked is support of students.
Colin Bell, 17, a Grade 12 CKSS student, who helped organize the protest, said, “I think it's ridiculous that the teachers are . . . losing their right to strike and to negotiate with the government.”
He added students want to support teachers, “because their rights have been taken away and we feel that that's unjust.”
Bell said the information given to students was very limited so a Facebook group was started to help raise awareness about the issue.
He added the Facebook group also helped stress the need to hold a peaceful protest.
McGregor principal Mark Sherman praised students for being well-behaved as he quietly stood back and let them conduct their protest uninterrupted.
He said the organizers told him they wanted to be polite and respectful in getting their message across.
“They wanted to show things done at the provincial level impacted them at the school level,” Sherman said. “That's why they're here, they want their voice to be heard.
“I think in a democratic society, it's important that they're voice be heard,” he added.
Grade 12 McGregor student, Alex Goldoni, 18, who organized the protest at the south Chatham school, said the students are the ones being hurt.
“We're hoping that the government can see that it's affecting the students,” Goldoni said.
Extra-curricular activities and sports were a big part of his high school experience and Goldoni would like to see young students have the same opportunity.
Grade 9 McGregor student, Rachel Tidman, 14, is disappointed the drama club has been cancelled due to the job action.
Admitting that she is shy and awkward, Tidman said she was coaxed into to doing improvisation and started coming out of her shell.
She also felt it was a better way to spend her time.
“The reason why I joined is a I don't like (the other kind of) drama and teenage girls are obviously filled with drama,” Tidman said.
Some senior students feel robbed of their last chance to enjoy high school sports.
Anique Daley, 17, in Grade 12 at McGregor, plays basketball, volleyball, tennis as well as takes part in track and field.
“I love playing sports . . . I'm not very happy about this at all.”
She is interested in trying to earn a university scholarship through the sports she excels at.
“I don't get a chance to do that if they continue,” Daley said, adding she doesn't think it's fair to students or teachers, who have to follow what their union tells them to do.
Blayne Bechard, 18, came back for a victory lap at CKSS to play basketball.
“As of right now, if sports gets taken away, I'm not coming back,” he said, noting the situation “kinda sucks.”