Catholic high school student heartbroken about loss of swim meet due to labour dispute

A Toronto Catholic secondary school student says she is heartbroken that a major swim meet has been cancelled due to the ongoing labour dispute between teachers and the province.

Chiara Alcantara, 15, captain of the swim team and a Grade 10 student at St. John Paul II Catholic Secondary School in Scarborough, said team members and coaches are extremely disappointed. Students are caught in the middle, she added.

The Toronto District Catholic Athletic Association (TDCAA) Swimming Championships, scheduled for Feb. 13 at the Etobicoke Olympium, have been cancelled. The cancellation means Toronto Catholic District School Board (TCDSB) students will not qualify for the Ontario Federation of School Athletic Associations (OFSAA) swim meet.

“We worked so hard throughout the entire season,” she said.

“It’s so disappointing how it had to end like this, how our whole season had just to end. We have nothing to celebrate our hard work with. All of it is just gone.”

Alcantara, who has been swimming since she was very young, said members of the swim team have been practising four times a week. They have been going to school at 7:30 a.m. to swim, practising after school, and returning home at 5 p.m. They were preparing on their own time for the meet in addition to doing school work, she said.

The team had four promising swimmers, including Alcantara, who were likely to advance to the OFSAA meet.

‘We all are just heartbroken together’

A teacher texted her the news last week, she said.

“My immediate reaction was just complete shock because this is the meet that we all work for the entire season. It’s the meet that lets us qualify for OFSAA, which is basically the biggest meet that we can go to as a school,” she said.

“We’ve been told there’s no chance of it being rescheduled.”

Alcantara, who maintains she is not taking sides in the dispute, said students were told by teachers that escalating job actions would not affect extracurricular activities. But she said she believes the cancellation of the meet undermines that promise.

“It’s being taken away from us because of something that we don’t have control over, something that we didn’t start, something that’s being done for us,” she said. “It feels like we are being pulled in different directions.”

Alcantara said she would like to tell the teachers, school boards and the provincial education ministry: “It just hurts being stuck in the middle of something we can’t control and something that we never really asked for. And for something like this to be taken away from us isn’t fair. We all are just heartbroken together.”

For the Grade 12 students on the team, the swim meet was their last chance.

“When you take a sport seriously and you’re on a swim team, OFSAA is the end goal,” she said.

Union says board can bring in occasional teachers

Liz Stuart, president of the Ontario English Catholic Teachers’ Association (OECTA), which represents 45,000 elementary and secondary English Catholic teachers in Ontario, said in a statement on Monday that staffing is the school board’s responsibility.

“Catholic teachers have explicitly said that our priority in these negotiations is our students. Any claim that extra-curricular activities are being cancelled because of OECTA’s job action is false,” Stuart said.

Stuart said activities, including swim meets, take teachers out of the classroom during the school day. In such cases, she said the board has the resources to ensure students are properly supervised. The board could call a certified occasional teacher, she said.

“The decision to cancel these activities for students in Catholic schools rests entirely with the school board administration. Anyone concerned about the decisions being made in their Catholic school board should contact their local trustee.”

Board blames ‘enhanced administrative job action’

As for the school board, TCDSB spokesperson Shazia Vlahos said if a teacher supervises a sports competition, it means that the teacher is not at school and his or her students who are not attending the competition are “dispersed” into another classroom. Other teachers, in effect, have to “provide coverage,” she said.

“A decision was made with one of the athletic associations responsible for this upcoming swim competition that it would be difficult for a school to have enough coverage, when a teacher goes away for a competition, for another teacher to take the students who are not going to be there,” Vlahos said.

She said teachers, according to their union under the current job action, should not accept “dispersed” students.

“It really makes this difficult to know what to do with those students,” she said.

Vlahos said the board cannot guarantee occasional teachers will be available to fill in at schools where they are needed. Nineteen schools were set to participate in the TDCAA swim meet, she said.

Last week, OECTA announced that it will take “enhanced administrative job action” starting on Tuesday. That means teachers will only do scheduled teaching and supervision duties during the regular school day.

“They will not accept additional tasks or assignments. Parent-teacher interviews will go ahead if they have been scheduled. Teachers will continue to participate in extra-curricular activities,” OECTA said in a news release on Thursday.

Vlahos added: “I completely understand if students are feeling disheartened.”


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