For several years, a group of women in Toronto's Upper Beaches neighbourhood have met every couple of months to talk about parenting and family life. From how to counter girls' negative body image to schoolyard politics to examining the decision to have children, the 25 or so members have become comfortable taking on thorny issues and having heated debates.
And they're a political group – during the last city election they hosted the ward's candidates. In late January, some of them met to talk about the teachers' actions in response to Bill 115 – a controversial piece of legislation that imposed teacher contracts – and the impact of the loss of extracurriculars for their children.
The loss of sports teams, clubs and after-school help has been devastating for many families across the province. Two school boards, Upper Canada District School Board in eastern Ontario and Trillium Lakelands District School Board in cottage country north of Toronto, are asking the Ontario Labour Relations Board to deem that the elementary teachers union is engaging in an illegal strike by urging teachers to do the minimum on report cards, not attend field trips and stop participating in sports teams and clubs. The hearing is being closely watched by education officials across the province, as the outcome could get the school year back on track for thousands of students and parents.
The Elementary Teachers' Federation of Ontario argued this week before the labour relations board that non-academic activities do not have much impact on the learning of elementary students. The group of Toronto moms would disagree.
Here's what a handful of them had to say:
"My son connects to the school through extracurriculars. He succeeds in music and sports, so that's what connects him to school. That has changed the relationship between him and his teacher because he doesn't get to connect with his teacher on those things that he's successful at. I hear a lot more complaining from him about school. It's created a distance between him and the school and I think teachers feel the same way … I don't know, but I could see it having a long-lasting impact on some children … He's not coming from the foundation I wanted him to have to launch into high school." Sanne Kaas-Mason, son in Grade 8 at Bowmore Road Junior and Senior Public School
"I'm frustrated for my son. He's never liked school and extracurriculars are a big part of belonging. He was proud he got invited back for the softball tryouts and then it was cancelled. Did it ruin his life? No, but [the team] certainly used to make him more excited about school. You hear teachers make these comments about democratic rights, and it's not that I'm dismissive but it's missing the point … It seems so cold and impersonal … I think there's validity to their message, but it's not getting across … I just wish there were a different way." Denyse Murray, son in Grade 7 and daughter in Grade 5 at Bowmore Road Junior and Senior Public School.
"I have one child in private and one in public and this dispute makes the difference between the two very stark. I feel for him [my son]. Thank god my daughter is not there this year. The lack of extracurricular activities in the public system is very unfair and an unfortunate way for them [the teachers] to get their message across." Anjali Baichwal, son is in Grade 3 at Norway Junior Public School and daughter in Grade 5 at a Montessori school.
"For my older son, who is in Grade 4, this year has been a struggle. Grade 4 is the first time you can try out for multiple sports teams and this year there are no opportunities for him. When your entire day is spent feeling frustrated at your inability to work as well as your peers and there is no outlet for you after school, no chance for you to excel, you begin to resent going to school in the first place. My biggest fear is that he won't ever love going to school again. I think there is a small window to engage kids, especially kids who struggle with learning differences, and this year we might just miss it." Lesley Sargla, sons in Grade 4 and 2 at Norway Junior Public School.