Ontario high school students are being disproportionately affected by the conflict between the Ontario Secondary School Teachers' Federation (OSSTF) and the provincial government. The OSSTF mandated its members to withdraw from extracurricular activities in early December. Given that the Liberals have imposed contracts under Bill 115 for a period of two years, the OSSTF will likely continue to use the ban on extracurricular activities as a negotiating tool.
What is most worrying about the conflict is the way in which students are being used as pawns by the OSSTF to advance and promote a political message. The OSSTF has released two TV advertisements, one featuring students ready to attend band with musical instruments in hand, and one with a group of basketball players. The ads are short, and a female voice narrates: "there is only one thing standing between public high school students and their extracurricular activities. Fight Bill 115."
This leads one to conclude that it is the government preventing students from participating in extracurricular activities. No other information is presented and the ad clearly aims to generate favourable public perception for the OSSTF and antagonize the government's position.
It is conveniently glossed over that the extracurricular ban came from the top brass at OSSTF.
Students' anger over the loss of extracurricular activities should not be directed towards the government, as the ad suggests. Nor should it be directed against individual teachers, who have very little leeway to deviate from the orders issued by the union. An Ottawa-area teacher did just this and continued to lead extracurricular activities in class. According to her, she was phoned and threatened by a union official with a fine. The OSSTF also posts the information of those who violate its orders in its publicly accessible newsletter, according to its vice president. With the union putting such severe restrictions on its members, it is no surprise that very few teachers attempt to hold activities for students.
The Guelph Mercury editorial board opines that the OSSTF has been successful in winning the hearts and minds of students. They note that teachers have likely not covered this subject in a "full and balanced" way, which should be expected before an informed opinion can be reached on any contentious political topic. This blatant one-sidedness should worry all Ontarians about a precedent being set in how teachers and unions can inject their political views into students. Students should be able to reach an informed decision after being presented with both sides of an issue.
Ontario students deserve the right to quality education, and as Premier McGuinty states, "Ontarians expect, rightly, that uncertainty in education will not continue indefinitely."
Furthermore, the OSSTF is quite disingenuous with respect to its own internal policies when it instituted the extracurricular ban. According to section 6.6 of its Policies and Procedures, "it is the policy of OSSTF that involvement in extra-curricular activities should be voluntary." The word voluntary is defined by Merriam-Webster as "proceeding from the will or from one's own choice or consent," or being "unconstrained by interference." OSSTF's call to end extracurricular activities dictates what members can do in their private lives. This same decree tells teachers that they must show up 15 minutes before classes begin and leave immediately after their final class. How much further will the OSSTF venture into its members' personal and private lives until these infringements are recognized as rights violations?
Originally published inThe Prince Arthur Herald.