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Students walk out of school to protest labour dispute
More than two dozen students at the elementary and secondary schools in Osoyoos walked out of class Wednesday to protest the ongoing dispute between teachers and the provincial government.
The students were joining with others across the province who organized the walkout through Facebook.
At Osoyoos Secondary School (OSS), about a dozen students stood in front of the school holding up hand-made signs protesting the disruption of the strike and lockout, waving at passing motorists.
Several students, however, used the walkout as a pretext to leave the school and skip classes.
At Osoyoos Elementary School (OES), an animated group of about 15 students also held signs and chanted: “No more strike!”
Officials at both schools said they could not sanction the walkout, but that the school would not stop students from walking out.
“It’s not fair for the teachers to bail on us,” said OES Grade 7 student Mason Holz. “We should bail on them since they’re bailing on us. It’s not fair on us.”
Holz was one of five students at OES who walked out of a morning assembly in protest. The students, who called themselves “the original five,” boasted that other students then followed them out and numbers were growing.
The other students of the “original five” were Bryson Garska, Grady Lynch, Brandon Della Paolera and Caleb Pearson.
“We’re not really mad at the teachers because not all the teachers want to [strike],” said Lynch, in Grade 7 at OES. “We’re mad at the teachers’ [union] because they’re the ones that want more money. Some of the teachers don’t.”
Pearson agreed that teachers and the government were both to blame.
“We’re waiting for them to come to an agreement,” he said.
Students at the high school hesitated to blame either the teachers or the government.
“I wouldn’t say I’m blaming either of them,” said Teagen Aspell, in Grade 10 at OSS. “I’m just saying they need to figure it out sooner rather than later so it doesn’t affect other generations of kids,” she added, pointing to labour disputes in previous years.
“I’ve been in school for 11 years and it’s happened many times before,” said Aspell. “It’s getting a bit tiresome having to deal with it.”
Fellow Grade 10 OSS student Katrina Hahn agreed.
“This (the walkout) is for the students’ sake because they’re the ones in the middle,” said Hahn. “We’re just fed up with all the striking going on. If the teachers don’t want to teach us, we’ll come out here. But the government is using us as an excuse to fight for what they think is right and the teachers are too. But they’re not actually considering what we’re feeling.”
At OSS, students have not been able to speak with teachers at lunch about issues such as bullying or issues students may be having with final exam preparation, both Hahn and Aspell said.
Principals at both schools said they could not sanction the walkout but they were not going to force students to stay in class.
“It’s not something that the school can support because these are children and there are safety issues,” said Bo Macfarlane, principal at OES. “That’s our greatest concern, the safety of the children. We can’t physically stop them because we’re not allowed to put our hands on kids, so they’re exercising their free will. However we are asking them to come back and we will be calling parents shortly just to let them know that they have left without permission.”
Macfarlane noted that some parents had provided letters authorizing their children to leave school for the walkout.
At OSS, principal Mike Safek invited some students into his office as they prepared to walk out of the school in an effort to dissuade them.
“Students’ voices are important and students have a right for that voice to be heard,” Safek said afterwards. “I want kids to build an expressive voice in the most effective way, in a way that also doesn’t hurt them. Right now in expressing their voice, they’re also missing classes, which hurts them instructionally. I think there are other ways for them to express their voice without hurting themselves by missing class.”
He suggested instead that students could write letters to their MLA or to the parties involved in the labour dispute.
Macfarlane also said it is important for students to express their views.
“With 21st century learning, it is something that we are trying to ingrain in them, to be socially aware,” said Macfarlane. “We have fundraisers for building schools in Africa. Our kids participate in We Day.”
Safek said teachers have been doing their best to mitigate the restrictions of the lockout, but a number of teachers are leaving the property at lunch.
“So access to teachers at lunchtime has certainly decreased a little bit and so I think students would feel impacted,” he said.
“I certainly understand their frustration,” Safek said. “I think the messages that the kids are wanting to send is let’s come to some sort of resolution and get back to normal in school.”