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Hamilton students urged to stay in class while protesting Bill 115

By Richard Leitner • METROLAND WEST MEDIA GROUP

The Hamilton-Wentworth District School Board is urging students to find other ways than walkouts to voice their anger over the cancellation of extracurricular in the face of teachers’ battle against Bill 115.

Board chair Tim Simmons said he’s pleased that protests outside at least nine high schools on Monday were peaceful, but students need to “continue their time in the classroom learning.”

RELATED: Waterdown students stage walkout over labour unrest

Most of the walkouts appear to have lasted 25 to 45 minutes, he said.

“The board encourages students to exercise their democratic rights in a peaceful and respectful way,” Simmons said.

“We’ve also suggested other methods in the future if they wish to disfavour for Bill 115. They could hold town halls, they could leaflet before or after school or during lunch. They could write their school newspaper,” he said.

“Those are all things that they could do to exercise their right to speak out.”

The board on Monday cancelled all sports, field trips, after-school clubs and other extracurricular activities at both the elementary and secondary, preempting a plan by teachers to withdraw from the activities as part of a protest against Bill 115.

Simmons said teachers at some elementary schools had already stopped volunteer activities as part of efforts to get the province to kill the legislation, which imposes wage freezes and cuts to benefits.

The board’s occasional elementary teachers and designated early childhood educators began working to rule on Monday.

“We’re disappointed that things have gone this far, but we understand the position our (teacher) locals are in with the provincial government,” he said.

“It comes down to Bill 115 being an impediment to reaching local deals.”

The Elementary Teachers’ Federation of Ontario is holding rotating, one-day strikes to protest Bill 115 and has promised to give affected boards 72 hours’ notice. The Ontario Secondary School Teachers Federation has said it doesn’t plan to follow suit at this point.

Both Hamilton locals are already in a legal strike position.

Simmons said he’s yet to hear when or if Hamilton elementary teachers may walkout.

“Our hope as a board is that we have notice and our expectation is that we have notice, so that we can communicate to our parents and communities in time so that other arrangements can be made if need be,” he said.

Simmons joined other trustees on Dec. 3 in voting to urge the province to review or repeal Bill 115, which sets out a framework for contract settlements accepted by Catholic teachers.

The framework includes a two-year wage freeze, an end to retirement payouts of up to six months of unused sick days and a cut in annual sick days to 10 from 20.

Bill 115 bans strike action for two years, but the prohibition only kicks in after a Dec. 31 deadline for teachers to reach a deal before one is imposed on them.

But the legislation also gives Education Minister Laurel Broten the power to stop any dispute before then. She has said she won’t intervene in the one-day strikes but will act if walkouts continue beyond that.

Chantal Mancini, president of the Ontario Secondary School Teachers’ Federation of Hamilton-Wentworth, said the key issue in the dispute is the province’s interference with collective bargaining rights.

Her members rejected a tentative agreement with the Hamilton board reached on Nov. 18, one both sides said met the requirements of Bill 115.

“They’ve taken away us being able to sit down and have free collective bargaining with our local employer,” Mancini said.

“The issue is not the wage freeze. The issue is the stripping of our democratic rights. That is why people are so upset. That needs to be clearly and specifically stated.”

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