Around 80-100 students at Glendale High School in Tillsonburg participated in a walkout at around 10 a.m. on Monday, December 10.
The reason for the walkout was two-fold.
“There are two reasons we are doing this,” said GHS student organizer Hayley Pusztai-Davidson before the event. “To encourage the government to give the teachers a better contract so we can end the strike sooner and make everyone's lives easier, (and) to protest Bill 115. The walkout's secondary purpose is to put out more education for the students, because a lot of students aren't aware of what is actually going on.”
School administrative staff discouraged the event. Around 9:50 a.m., event organizers discovered police and security guards onsite, and the designated meeting place – the school cafeteria – had been ‘closed temporarily.’
“The OPP presence was there only to keep the peace and make sure no one gets hurt, we don’t take stands at protests or strikes,” said an OPP constable.
There was a last minute scramble by Pusztai-Davidson to cancel or postpone the walkout in order to “keep it in a safe environment for the students,” but there wasn’t enough time to warn participants. As a result, planning was shoved to the side as confusion became rampant in reaction to preventative measures set in place.
Pusztai-Davidson’s original intention was to clarify the participants’ understanding of the situation, garner support for the teachers, and have an organized discussion in the school’s cafeteria in order to systematically voice student opinion.
Some of the issues include the removal of collective bargaining rights and the new ability of the Ontario Minister of Education to alter union contracts without legislative consultation.
“It (Bill 115) is basically going against our democratic right to vote, and particularly the educational staff's right to vote,” said Pusztai-Davidson.
Reaction from participants seemed to be generally teacher supportive. Walkout participant Alan Leung voiced his support for the teachers.
“We’re not against the teachers, we’re with them,” said Leung.
Zack Winegarden participated in the walkout so he “can have (his) sports back… and dances.”
Many of the students congregated in the school parking lot in response to the removal of extra-curriculars and sports.
“We didn’t know when the stuff, the work to rule, was going to happen,” said Taylor Gowette, who played in the fall season for the Glendale senior girls basketball team. “The whole time, we were scared, like when it’s going to end.”
Members of Glendale’s junior boys basketball team, who started their TVRA East season last week, voiced their disappointment.
“We’re leading the league right now,” said one player.
The Thames Valley District School Board website says that sports are ‘on pause’ until the winter holidays.
Not all students supported the walkout. Alexander Wilson thought that the disorganization could be blamed on the lack of clear purpose for the event.
Some cited more effective alternative methods and confusion amongst the participants as their reason to opt out.
Bryan Brook thought that more effective motivators of change might be “writing letters (to local MPPs) or protesting outside Ernie Hardeman’s office.”
Brook said views on the walkout varied depending “on who you see as the greater evil in this situation, whether it’s the teachers or the government.”
Despite differences, everybody involved hopes for a light at the end of the tunnel.
“I think a lot of people just want it to be over,” said Noah Medel.