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Battlefords rally for public education says, "Enough is enough"

The fight for the Saskatchewan public education sector was on full display in the Battlefords on Nov. 4, as nearly 1,000 people from across the Battlefords rallied.

NORTH BATTLEFORD — As Samantha Becotte stood at the microphone across the street from the Minister of Education, Jeremy Cockrill's office in North Battleford on Nov. 4, a crowd of approximately 1,000 teachers, students, educational assistants, and parents voiced their displeasure with the current state of public education in Saskatchewan.

"Enough is enough. Enough is enough. Enough is enough," the crowd chanted, as signs waved and cars passing by honked their horns.

And as the Saskatchewan Teachers' Federation (STF) — which represents 13,500 professional teachers in the province — finished its fourth and final fall rally in the province with speeches from concerned parents and the president of the STF, Becotte said that something has to change in the province.

"In addition to being president, I am also the mother to two amazing girls in our public education system ... and if you are going to mess with my children, Jeremy Cockrill, you better be ready," Becotte said, adding, "I am ready to stand up and fight for not just my two, but every child across the province so they have a high-quality education."

She added that the public education system should be invested in so that all children have an equal chance of success. However, according to Becotte, the government is ignoring the cracks in the system — cracks that include a budget that is below the rate of inflation and doesn't factor in an increase in enrolment, a throne speech that takes 30 minutes to mention education, a priority survey from the Saskatchewan Party that doesn't mention students, and their lack of educational policy resolutions at the party's convention the same weekend as the rally.

Becotte added that reasonable class sizes, support for educational assistants and mental health counsellors in schools are also necessary as a crisis looms in the province.

"He [Jeremy Cockrill] is ignoring the needs of our children, and ignoring his responsibility," she said, noting that in a meeting with the minister, he said that he wants to collaborate and is ready to listen to parents and teachers. She told him that actions speak louder than words.

"Their actions are speaking loudly," Becotte said as the crowd booed and chanted, 'shame on you.'

One mother from the Battlefords told the crowd that her son with Down Syndrome was fortunate to have teachers and an education system that supported him. But now, she feels that a chronic lack of funding and less access to support in a rural area of the province could prove dangerous to others.

“At an early age, Connor needed speech therapy, as kids with Down syndrome typically have difficulty in this area. As he got older, access to this support became less and less,” Cheryl Dunits said. 

“In larger communities such as Saskatoon, parents and caregivers do have some other options, but this is not available to all in Saskatchewan who may benefit from it. It was simply not an option for us to travel into Saskatoon for appointments.”

Another mother whose daughter is diagnosed with anxiety and ADHD, says that class sizes and long wait lists are forcing her to pay out-of-pocket for an occupational therapist and a counsellor because the schools are backlogged more now than ever. 

"You can't pour from an empty cup. But our schools are. And not only are those cups empty, they have cracks and holes in them from chronic under-funding," she said.

.And a list of quick facts handed out at the event notes the stark reality facing education in the province. 

In the 2022-23 school year, there was: 

  • one social worker per 2588 students, 
  • one psychologist per 2904 students,
  • and one speech pathologist per 1412 students

"Teachers are fighting and it's sad that we have to use that term, that this is a battle that we are fighting for our kids. But we can not win that battle alone," Becotte said. 

Tom Kroczynski, a teacher from the Battlefords — expected to win The Battlefords NDP Nomination later in November — told the News-optimist that although the government has tried to make it about teacher's salaries with a recent billboard campaign, he said it's so much more.

"It isn't just teachers here, it's parents, kids, and even concerned people in the community that want a strong public education system. We're here to say, this is really important," he said.

"This is for the kids. This is for the community," Kroczynski added.

He noted that violence in schools, an educational assistant shortage, and class size and complexity are just a few of the nearly a dozen issues facing the education system in the Battlefords and the province.

"Those [concerns] were brought before the government board and those guys aren't acting on it at all. The worst thing is that they're not willing to negotiate anything really, and we've already seen the offer on the billboard," he said, referencing again a billboard campaign the government came under fire for early this year. 

When asked what he might say to the government or Minister Cockrill if they were at the rally, listening to people in the Battlefords, he said,

"I know they've got other things going on but I think it's really important for him (Jeremy Cockrill) to come and hear what teachers and the community is saying about what needs to happen in education."

And those thoughts were mirrored by Erika Ritche (MLA for Saskatoon-Nutana) who was present at the rally. She said that she came out to bear witness to the struggles facing teachers, students, parents, and educators.

"I was very moved by the two parents who bravely stood up and talked about the challenges that their family are facing," she said, reiterating concerns that parents are paying out-of-pocket for services that should be public.

"Teacher's working conditions are our student's learning conditions."

Ritchie hopes that the government will not only sit at the bargaining table but will negotiate with educators in the province moving forward.

"We know that we're stronger together... we want better from the government."