Students at Parkland Middle School in Cranbrook joined their peers across B.C. on Wednesday in a school walkout protesting the impacts of the continued dispute between teachers and the province.
The province-wide walkout, hastily organized via social media this week, saw students leave class at 9 a.m. Wednesday morning to show their frustration with limited access to teachers and loss of class time during the rotating one-day strikes and partial lockout that began last week.
School students say they feel caught in the middle in the battle over a new contract currently being negotiated by the B.C. Teachers Federation and the B.C. government over wage increases, class sizes and class composition.
In Cranbrook, between 40 and 50 students at Parkland Middle School took part in the walkout Wednesday, carrying signs that read, “Don’t put us in the middle”, “We care about our education – give us our civil rights”, and, “Our education is at risk! Kids matter! Put an end to this!”
Principal Scott Holt said he spoke to many students before the walkout to urge them to take more appropriate measures to get their point across.
“I’ve had a lot of conversations. We were telling kids: I get where you are coming from; there are other ways that you could protest and have your voices heard without putting yourself and your school at risk. Write a letter to the MLA or the premier; protest at lunch when it’s not school time; maybe you could join the teachers, depending on where you sit on the issue. There are lots of other options,” he said.
Parents spoke up to support the students’ decision to walkout.
Karen Johnston’s son Reyce, a Grade 8 student at Parkland, approached his parents the night before the walkout to ask permission.
“Reyce was very clear that he wanted a voice in this whole situation,” said Johnston, who is publisher of the Cranbrook Daily Townsman. “He basically said, he has a policy that he’s not allowed to harass or bully anybody in the schoolyard, and he is perceiving the teachers and government as bullying each other, and it’s trickling down into the school level. He feels he has a right to stand up for that.”
Johnston told her son that he has the support of his family in protesting the dispute.
“If my 13-year-old comes to me and tells me that, I’m pretty impressed. Whether I agree or disagree with the entire movement doesn’t matter. My son asked for a voice; he’s been put in the middle of this situation.”
Meanwhile, students in Kimberley also took part in the walkout. About a dozen students at McKim Middle School congregated outside school grounds, chanting, “Our voices count.”
About 25 students from Selkirk Secondary also walked out, marching on the Platzl to show their frustration at not being able to get extra help at exam time, extra-curricular sports being cut and more. The students said they supported their teachers and thought they were doing the best they could.
Most school districts across the province informed parents that if their children did walk out they would be considered to be skipping school and marked as absent as schools could not be responsible for the safety of students who left the premises without permission.
With files from Carolyn Grant, Kimberley Daily Bulletin