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Chilliwack students rally in support of teachers

Sardis secondary students line Vedder Road Friday afternoon after they walked out of classes to protest the labour impasse between teachers and the government. Students from other Chilliwack schools joined the demonstration, which was part of a province-wide student walk out. - Greg Knill/ Progress
Sardis secondary students line Vedder Road Friday afternoon after they walked out of classes to protest the labour impasse between teachers and the government. Students from other Chilliwack schools joined the demonstration, which was part of a province-wide student walk out.
— image credit: Greg Knill/ Progress

Approximately 100 students walked out of Sardis secondary at noon Friday in support of their teachers.

They weren't dissuaded by an announcement at lunch by school administration advising them not to leave school grounds, or by the possibility of "strict disciplinary action," or by a letter to parents on the school district website encouraging their children not to walk out.

Sardis secondary students lined both sides of Vedder Road with signs that had messages like "Support our teachers;" "Stop Bill 22;" "Teachers have rights too;" "Support our education."

"When students like us walk out, it shows the government that we're not happy," said Grade 11 student Max Gardner, organizer of the rally that was held from noon to 3 p.m. along Vedder Road. "As students, we feel we're being overlooked, that our say is not important.

"Bill 22 has a negative impact on all students. It's taking away class size and composition, and special needs supports, which can have a devastating effect on the entire education system."

Bill 22, entitled the Education Improvement Act, includes new provisions that state a school board must ensure class sizes do not exceed 30 students unless deemed appropriate by either the school principal or superintendent.

Previous class size legislation provided teachers in grades 4-7 with an opportunity to decline any class size over 30 students, and teachers in grades 8-12 had to be consulted for any class over 30 students.

"The general consensus is that if the student body is being adversely affected by what the government is doing, than why shouldn't we have a voice too," said Grade 12 student Connor Sliman.

In a letter to parents posted on the school district's website superintendent Michael Audet said that while he understood the desire of students to speak out on matters important to them, he did not support their decision to leave school.

"As a school district we are concerned about the safety of our students who leave school Friday afternoon," he said. "Instructional time is very important for learning and teaching."

Grade 10 student Seth McFarlane felt it more important to be out on the line.

McFarlane suffers from conversion disorder which causes him to have daily seizures. However, he doesn't have the support of a special care aid (SCA) in school, "because the government won't fund it."

"I'm out here to represent other students with medical issues like me," he said.

"The reason I take so much offense to [Bill 22], my class has at least 10 kids with special needs, but only one SCA – in what world does the government see that as being okay?"

There were also student protests during the school day from G.W. Graham middle secondary school students at All Sappers' Memorial Park Cenotaph, and A.D. Rundle middle school students outside their school.

Thousands of students across B.C. participated in similar walkouts.

Students weren't the only ones supporting teachers. A large group of parents, along with their children, rallied outside Chilliwack MLA John Les' constituency office Friday afternoon.

"I care desperately with what is happening with our school system and what is happening to our teachers," said parent Jo Stolz, who brought her two daughters, who attend Vedder elementary, to the rally.

"The way teachers are being treated right now is so shameful. Bringing this to the attention of our local MLA, we felt was the one thing we could do to help."

However, while Les did come out and chat with parents, he was unwavering in his beliefs.

"I am convinced that we are treating our teachers fairly," he said. "It's really, really unfortunate that we have to legislate. But if we don't, this dispute will go on and on and on, and the only group who suffers are the children."

kbartel@theprogress.com

twitter.com/schoolscribe33

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