Parents who helped Robbie Carey, 11, make and distribute free shirts to his classmates at a Kew Beach school say it was all his idea. The school made students take them off.
Eleven-year-old Robbie Carey flunked his teachers on the last day of school.
Outside Kew Beach Junior Public School on Wednesday, he and his mother handed out t-shirts to other students with a message bashing the Ontario’s elementary teachers’ union for withholding comments on report cards.
On the front, the shirts said, ”I’m just a kid. Why are you punishing me?” above stick figures of a boy and girl. On the back was a mock report card giving the union an A+ in ”selfishness,” Fs in ”collaboration” and ”responsibility to students” and D- in ”compassion.”
Ontario’s public elementary teachers have been without a contract since last summer and are in a work-to-rule campaign. As a pressure tactic, they announced they would not be inputting marks and comments for report cards; as a result, most students will get only ”marks summaries” in mid-July instead. Issues in the labour dispute include class sizes and salary.
Robbie’s mother, Maureen, said the protest was her son’s idea. ”Robbie told us what he wanted to convey,” she said. ”First of all, what he wanted to say is their actions in the strike are more hurtful to children.”
They had 140 t-shirts made with the help of family friends, a graphic designer and a printer.
Interviewed at home with his mother, Robbie said he wanted to protest ”because I usually try and do the best that I can and improve every single year, and without the comments it’s hard to do that.”
They handed out 80 t-shirts before the school stopped them. Over the PA system, staff later told students to remove the shirts. Because he didn’t have a spare, Robbie said he had to turn his inside out.
He was ”shamed by the teachers,” his mother said.
Ryan Bird, a spokesman for the Toronto District School Board, said the students were asked to change because ”their parents weren’t aware that they were wearing t-shirts with a political message on them.”
Moreover, the shirt broke the school’s dress code, which forbids any clothes that ”demean an identifiable group,” he said.
A group of Grade 4 students playing basketball near the school on Friday said their teachers were visibly hurt by the protest. One said his teacher was on the verge of tears. ”She had to put sunglasses on,” he told the Star.
Sarah Nauman, the school’s principal, said ”teachers feel extraordinarily supported by the parents in the community.”
Some parents were angry their kids were drawn into a protest against teachers.
Stefanie Lynn, a mother of two at the school, said the kids didn’t understand what they were doing. ”You mention free t-shirt to a child – you give them a free bug, they’ll take it. Kids will take anything that’s free,” she said.
At the graduation ceremony the same day as the protest, the ”situation was a bit uncomfortable,” Robbie’s dad said.
Robbie, who had played on the soccer, volleyball, softball and rugby teams and portrayed Pinocchio in the school musical, jumped onstage to pick up the Principal’s Leadership Award.
”I think he showed leadership by taking a firm stand to show what he believes in,” his dad, Ryan Carey, said.
”We’re very proud of Robbie for starting a dialogue about a very important subject that is affecting students, parents and teachers alike, and that people are reluctant to talk about.
”He didn’t intend to hurt anyone’s feelings personally.”