I sent this letter to the staff at my children's public school after I discovered that extracurriculars are not returning.
The Elementary Teachers' Federation of Ontario has reaffirmed that their "advice regarding voluntary/extracurricular activities remains unchanged." I am writing to represent a different opinion and to humbly request that you consider this issue closely in order to understand the impact of your decisions in the coming days and weeks.
I am not going to argue the evils or benefits of Bill 115. I can only speak of that which I know directly.
My kids love school. But for them school is much more than French and history and music classes. It is also the extras like band and student council. It is traditions like the spelling bee and the history fair. It is trips and excursions, all of which offer them the opportunity to learn outside of the classroom. Lately my wife and I have sadly watched our kids' engagement with school diminish with each week. Trumpet lessons outside of school do not make up for not being able to be in the band with their peers. And Sunday volleyball is not the same as playing in your gym with your peers while being coached by your teacher. Sadly, it is a death by a thousand cuts that is slowly bleeding their interest, their involvement and their love of education.
Make no mistake about it, I fully understand that these are volunteer efforts but I also know that for many of you these activities are what make your days exciting as well. You see, when I went to teachers college I too sat with my peers and discussed what types of clubs and sports we wanted to get involved with when we graduated. I chose a different career path, but for many of my classmates, these extracurriculars were the reason they went into teaching. Many had a sense that it was in those situations outside of the bounds of a regular classroom that some of the most important lessons were taught. I know that many of you feel the same way and I know this because my kids know it too. I see it when they recognize that the disappointment which they feel is also shared by so many of you as well.
Perhaps your union has some secret plan to use this "unofficial" and wholly voluntary denial of service to leverage change with the government. Perhaps as members of the union you are privy to these plans. However, please be aware that as a parent I just can't see it. I have to tell you that it is very hard to watch this denial of opportunity that so closely affects our children to be followed up by a whole lot of nothing. It is completely unclear what Sam Hammond and his advisers are doing with this power that they so mightily wield. With every day that passes it just feels more and more like an honourable fight that has just become another hostage scenario.
As this situation develops, we as parents – like you – are being forced to make some very difficult choices. And one of those choices is whether to continue to support the school, the teachers, and the union position by standing with the status quo. I know that you will understand that – while we may have strong feelings one way or another on issues around Bill 115 and the future of collective bargaining – we are first and foremost advocates for our children.
Our children are growing up fast and they only get one shot at being in grade 5 or representing their class in student council or attending the history fair. And for many students losing that engagement with school can be the first step in a slippery slope away from success. There has been considerable discussion among many parents regarding options to ensure that our children's school experience are as robust and positive as possible. One of those options that always comes up includes looking at other schools and boards that are choosing to offer those volunteer services that make up a whole school experience. Make no mistake, this is not a threat but we'd be idiots to not admit among ourselves the simple fact that if the situation continues to degrade, the profile of our school may be substantially changed when school resumes in September.
I stand by the statement that our school is a great school. We have great teachers, great administration, and an amazing program. In the days and weeks to come there needs to be some considerable discussion in the staff room and at home. In the course of that discussion it will be very important to be very clear – the union has put this decision to you; you are not bound to follow the union's advice and they have explicitly stated that there will be no sanctions of any sort for participating.
I put it to you that this is your decision to make and as a parent I ask that you deeply consider the implications of your decision. After all, your union has removed any veil of protection and made it clear that this is your choice to make. Personally, I implore you to release the students from this job action and to resume the extracurriculars that are so very important to those in your charge.
Dave Gibson is a father of two in Ottawa.