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President Thomas: ‘OPSEU members are leaders in the fight to save our schools’

Tens of thousands of students are graduating this week from schools that OPSEU members have helped keep open.
“OPSEU members are leaders in the fight to save our schools,” says OPSEU President Warren (Smokey) Thomas. “I want to offer heartfelt thanks to all the education workers, especially OPSEU members, who’ve supported students both in the classroom and in the community.

“Our members are fighting for their communities, and they’re winning.”

Late last year, a campaign of parents and supported by OPSEU and its members helped force the provincial government to back away from its plan to close all Provincial and Demonstration schools. Those eight schools provide specialized education and services to young students with learning and physical disabilities.
Earlier this week, in the wake of a province-wide lawn sign and media campaign supported by OPSEU and its members, the provincial government announced a temporary moratorium on the closure of rural and northern schools.  
“OPSEU provided key leadership and support in both those campaigns,” says Thomas, “including organizing lobby days, rallies, barbecues and community town halls.
Paula Tavares, Chair of OPSEU’s Sector 3 Boards of Education Chair, is proud to represent workers who support some of the most vulnerable students in the public school system.
“Bringing learning to life and life to communities is what our members strive to accomplish with some of the most vulnerable students in the school system,” she says.

“Every achievement that our students make is celebrated and recognized—from life skills, literacy, physical well-being, and language acquisition.”

Daryl O’Grady, Child and Youth Worker and Education MERC Chair, is similarly proud of the support and encouragement that he and other OPSEU education workers provide students with learning and physical disabilities at the Provincial and Demonstration Schools. He points to the speech given by a recent graduate of Sagonaska, one of the Provincial schools.

“He spoke about his struggles with a learning disability and how difficult and frustrating it was to not receive the help he desperately needed in his community mainstream school. He then enrolled and attended Sagonaska, one of the Provincial demonstration schools,” says O’Grady.

“He credited the support that he received from both the residence staff and teachers who provided him with the tools and resources that he required to be confident and to achieve his dream of attending university."

With the skills and strategies developed at Sagonaska, he returned to his hometown high school, where he graduated with a 91 per cent average and was then accepted to Trent University.

“Without Provincial Demonstration Schools, successes like this would not be possible,” O’Grady says.