By the time I arrived at Queen’s Park, the metal barricades were set up around the front of the Legislative Assembly of Ontario building.

In less than half an hour, students from Bramalea Secondary School would stage a protest against Bill 115, the Putting Students First Act, that freezes teachers’ wages for two years and prevents them from striking.

In response, teachers cancelled all extracurricular activities at Bramalea Secondary and some other schools around the province. 

The Grade 12 students I spoke to told me how important extracurricular activities are to students at Bramalea Secondary.

“We’re known for our sports,” said one student. 

“We’re known for our extracurriculars. We have a very spirited school. So when our extracurriculars got taken away our school just collapsed.”

“With sports and clubs you get to create bonds with people,” said another student. “And I can’t do that any longer.”

In their senior year, these students were hoping to make it a memorable one. But without the extracurriculars, it’s all school. 

No clubs. No sports. No arts programs.

It’s also jeopardized some of the scholarships that students were counting on to get into university next fall.

“I had two different scholarships lined up for two different schools and now they’re gone because I can’t play baseball this year,” said a third student.

Without extracurriculars on their application forms, they feel they’re at a disadvantage when it comes to landing spots in highly competitive academic university programs.

They appreciate the struggles of their teachers but don’t feel bringing students into the equation was the best course of action.

“They weren’t thinking about us,” said a fourth student. 

Later, I spoke with another group of students who said it wasn’t fair that they have to suffer because of the disagreement between teachers and the government.

But when I asked them what other course of action they would have preferred the teachers use against the government, they were at a loss for ideas.

What really irked the students was how the government ignored them when it made decisions affecting their lives.

“McGuinty treats us like we’re just kids,” said one student. “But we’re future voters.”

They said that if the Premier and his Education Minister were to sit down with students and get their input, it would make a big difference.

It’s not just the athletes and high achievers that have suffered under Bill 115 and the loss of extracurriculars.

Other students, they said, who need after-school help with their courses, like mathematics or english, no longer have those clubs to help them boost their grades.

Students dressed in all-black attire for Saturday’s rally to show their contempt for Bill 115.

“We are here today because there is something missing from our lives, something that shouldn’t be missing,” said Shomari Malcolm, a former student at Bramalea Secondary and currently an undergraduate student at the University of Toronto downtown campus.

Malcolm was involved in numerous extracurricular activities throughout high school. “We have to tell the government that education is too important to arbitrarily overhaul it just to save a buck.”

Even though Malcolm is disappointed with that extracurriculars were cut off, he acknowledged that it was the only way for teachers to show their disapproval with Bill 115 without losing their jobs.

And let’s not forget that teachers donate hundreds of hours every school year voluntarily coaching sports teams, running arts programs and supervising clubs. 

It’s not a job requirement.

Now the Premier is trying to place the blame for the loss of extracurriculars solely on the shoulders of teachers.

“What did you think was going to happen?” asked Malcolm. 

“How can you pass legislation removing teachers’ right to strike and collectively bargain and expect them to continue volunteering hundreds of hours?”

“Don’t insult the chef if you want a good meal,” yelled one protester.

Malcolm said students know the government isn’t putting students first.

“If you’re going to name a bill the Put Students First Act, you should probably consult some students first,” said Malcolm.

NDP Education critic Peter Tabuns said, “A lawsuit will most likely find Bill 115 unconstitutional and stick Ontario with damages in the hundreds of millions of dollars.”

Tabuns said, “We’re going to have to get back to democratic norms where people can organize and negotiate and where families, students and workers can find solutions to their problems and make things happen in Ontario.”

“Kill the bill,” chanted the crowd.

“We were never swayed or encouraged by teachers,” said Kayla Smith, a grade 12 student at Bramalea Secondary. 

“We are not pawns in a game. Each protest has been a student initiative. But we do support our teachers’ decision and fight with them.

“Not against them.”

John Bonnar

John Bonnar is an independent journalist producing print, photo, video and audio stories about social justice issues in and around Toronto.