By Sue Tiffin
Larry Hope director of Trillium Lakelands District School Board said that no disciplinary action was taken on staff or on students or parents participating in the #StudentsSayNo walkout on April 4 because it was not warranted.
“In TLDSB at this point we have no evidence to suggest that any kind of discipline is required” he said. “We were not given any kind of feedback from local law enforcement that students behaved inappropriately our principals have not reported back to us that there was any inappropriate conduct of teachers or of students or of parents for that matter because we did have some parents supporting this.”
Hope was responding to an open letter written to him by representatives of the Trillium Lakelands Elementary Teachers Local of the Elementary Teachers Federation of Ontario and the Ontario Secondary School Teachers’ Federation on April 8.
The letter to Hope came after Minister of Education Lisa Thompson spoke against the province-wide student-led walkouts held in the afternoon of April 4.
An estimated 100000 or more students from 700 elementary and secondary schools – including all seven secondary schools in the TLDSB – participated in the walkout to protest the Progressive Conservative government’s proposed changes to public education including OSAP cuts class size changes and potential teacher job loss.
In her statement Thompson said teachers are “enabling students to skip classes. And even when students are in class too many teachers are choosing to use students as a captive audience for the union’s political agenda.”
Karen Bratina president TLETL and Colin Matthew president OSSTF District 15 said Thompson “dismissed the activism of the student organizers and attempted to spin a false narrative about the role of teachers and teachers’ unions.”
“We’ve had several questions asked of us about organization and I think the path was very clear leading up to [the walkout]” said Hope. “There was a tremendous amount of social media traffic by young people about this there was a very good network of students who brought their voice to the table and we saw that through the media we saw it through social media so I think everyone was very aware of this.”
Thompson said she “expects all boards to take action to discipline anyone who abandons their classroom responsibilities.”
“Public education is a right of all Ontarians” reads the TLETL and OSSTF’s letter to Hope. “Teachers and education workers are highly trained professionals who work every day in the best interests of their students. Given both the importance of an educated populace and the cost of public education the people of Ontario deserve the facts when it comes to their education system including the integrity and professionalism of the teachers and the leadership both locally and provincially.”
The open letter called on Hope “to set the record straight and reassure the public that not only were no teachers disciplined with regards to the student walkout but that both the school board and the teachers of TLDSB continue to act in accordance with the standards of their profession and work in the best interest of students parents and the education community in accordance with the laws of Ontario.”
Hope said work done on the TLDSB strategic plan about two years ago saw feedback from parents staff and students asking the board to value the strength of everyone’s voice.
“So we’ve … built a foundation of valuing the voice of our constituents whether that be parents or students or staff” he said. “And so when students have a voice in whatever way they do it so long as it’s respectful so long as it’s safe so long as it is truly founded on what they believe in we pay attention to that and we value the voice of our young people.”
Hope said parents were sent a message prior to the event happening to inform them their students might choose to walkout and asking parents to discuss safety and respectful behaviour with their kids if they were opting to walk out and participate in the protest.
Students absent from class were marked accordingly in attendance records.
About 50 students participated in the HHSS walkout which was organized by Grade 12 student Chloé Samson.