Protest at Coles Build­ing

Over 100 Is­lan­ders protest teacher cuts, de­spite be­ing called off by teach­ers union

The Guardian (Charlottetown) - - FRONT PAGE - BY TERESA WRIGHT twright@the­guardian.pe.ca Twit­ter.com/GuardianTeresa

More than 100 Is­lan­ders march to protest cuts to teach­ing po­si­tions.

“Re­in­state 28!” This was the chant of over 100 par­ents, stu­dents and teach­ers Tues­day who showed up to the P.E.I. leg­is­la­ture to protest gov­ern­ment’s plan to cut 28 teach­ing po­si­tions.

The protest was a makeshift one, as the of­fi­cially rally called late last week by the P.E.I. Teacher’s Fed­er­a­tion was called off. Out­go­ing union pres­i­dent Gilles Arse­nault wrote a let­ter to mem­bers Tues­day morn­ing, say­ing the Teach­ers Fed­er­a­tion was happy gov­ern­ment is now go­ing to re­view those teach­ing cuts, and with this “good faith ges­ture to schools,” the union only felt it would be ap­pro­pri­ate to “re­turn the ges­ture to (gov­ern­ment) by call­ing off the rally.”

Some teach­ers and Is­lan­ders took to so­cial media in­di­cat­ing they still planned to protest.

In his let­ter, Arse­nault urged teach­ers not to at­tend any such rally.

“A non-united front will not have the same sort of im­pact we would have to­gether. There may be another time when this type of united public dis­play is re­quired, but right now, we feel the Is­land ed­u­ca­tion sys­tem is bet­ter served work­ing with gov­ern­ment.”

Nonethe­less, over 100 Is­land par­ents, chil­dren and even a few teach­ers re­jected this as­ser­tion and took their signs and spirit to the P.E.I. leg­is­la­ture on Tues­day.

Mon­tague Con­sol­i­dated stu­dent Emily Merriam and her friends brought their colour­ful home­made signs and stood hand-in-hand in front of the crowd as peo­ple spoke about the need to stop cut­ting teach­ers from Is­land class­rooms.

Merriam said this past school year she was in a split class, which meant there were 30 other stu­dents in her class in two dif­fer­ent grades with just one teacher.

“It’s re­ally loud and you don’t get a lot of time to ask ques­tions,” she said.

“A lot of times in class I raise my hand for a ques­tion that never gets an­swered.”

Her mother says she wor­ries some P.E.I. chil­dren are slip­ping through the cracks.

“I don’t know what they’re go­ing to do if they make those cracks that much big­ger with these cuts.”

A num­ber of teach­ers were in at­ten­dance, but were con­cerned about speak­ing out since their union did not sup­port teach­ers at­tend­ing this rally.

But one teacher did take to the mi­cro­phone. Alexis Carr, who teaches at West­wood Pri­mary School in Mead­ow­bank, said she dis­agreed with the Teach­ers’ Fed­er­a­tion telling teach­ers not to protest the cuts.

“We were told not to speak out and it looks so lily liv­ered,” she said, not­ing her school, which teaches Grades K-3, is los­ing 5.1 teach­ing po­si­tions in Septem­ber.

“We teach kids to stand up for what they be­lieve in so why would I be a shrink­ing vi­o­let?”

The crowd shouted, “shame” and “re­in­state 28,” re­fer­ring to the 28 teach­ing po­si­tions cut this year, as Ed­u­ca­tion Min­is­ter Hal Perry ad­dressed the crowd.

“I am lis­ten­ing, we are lis­ten­ing, we do ap­pre­ci­ate ev­ery­thing that the teach­ers do for our stu­dents in the class­room,” Perry said.

Gov­ern­ment has agreed to re­view the teach­ing cuts, but will not com­mit to fully re­vers­ing all 28 po­si­tion elim­i­na­tions.

When asked if gov­ern­ment told the teach­ers’ union not to protest in ex­change for this re­view, Perry hes­i­tantly de­nied this.

“To my knowl­edge, we didn’t,” he said.

TERESA WRIGHT/THE GUARDIAN

Ed­u­ca­tion Min­is­ter Hal Perry is con­fronted by pro­tester Gary Con­nelly dur­ing a rally against teach­ing cuts Tues­day af­ter­noon in Char­lot­te­town. Look­ing on is Trans­porta­tion Min­is­ter Paula Biggar.

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