The position of student trustee is an exciting, and recent, addition to Ontario’s education community. The earliest incarnation of the student trustee began in the early 1990s under the New Democratic government of former premier Bob Rae. The Royal Commission on Learning explored ways to revitalize the education system. In its report, “For the Love of Learning”, the commission recommended a student member be on all district school boards to vote on behalf of students. This empowerment would be complimented by giving a greater role to students’ councils in individual schools.
Although this report was the first official government document to propose enabling students to represent their interests, the first board to enact legislation allowing a non-voting student member was the former Kenora Board of Education in 1989.
In 1997, the Progressive Conservative government of former premier Mike Harris introduced “The Education Quality Improvement Act” as Bill 160. Although this act instigated a labour dispute, within the legislation was the creation of the position of “pupil representative”. The act allowed individual school boards to draft their own policies to allow for flexibility within guidelines. In 1998, every school board had at least one pupil representative.
Under the vision of a dedicated group, student trustees from the English-Public, English-Catholic, French-Public and French-Catholic boards agreed to work together to stand up for students. Contrary to the deteriorating relations throughout the education community at the time, this association boldly and progressively was a syndicate that was cooperative, bridging the gaps of language and religion, while also recognizing the benefits of representing a united student voice. The inaugural meeting of the Ontario Student Trustees’ Association – l’Association des élèves conseillers et conseillères de l’Ontario occurred in Toronto in 2000.
Throughout the next terms, the association evolved into an official stakeholder at the Ministry of Education to consult on a variety of issues. The association argued for student rights and stability in education.
The association’s work in 2006 saw an empowerment of the student trustee position. In its report entitled “The Student Trustee: Today and Tomorrow”, the association made a positive change in education governance. Under the Liberal government of Premier Dalton McGuinty and the leadership of former education Minister Gerard Kennedy, the position was officially named as “student trustee” and the office was empowered, granting student trustees the right to suggest motions, have access to board resources and to attend meetings closed to the public, through amendments to the Education Act.
The association has also argued for a focus on “education, not evaluation”, better bilingual education, sweatshop-free Catholic school uniforms and other measures to improve schools. Today, the association is working to bring address extracurricular activity fees and civic engagement in youth.
For over sixteen years, OSTA-AECO has been a strong, effective and positive voice for students. The association is advancing the student vision today and working for the improvement of education in Ontario.