Protest at Coles Building
Over 100 Islanders protest teacher cuts, despite being called off by teachers union
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.
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.