The​ ​position​ ​of​ ​Student​ ​Trustee​ ​is​ ​an​ ​exciting​ ​and​ ​recent​ ​addition​ ​to​ ​Ontario’s​ ​education system​.​ ​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​ ​all​ ​district​ ​school​ ​boards​ ​have​ ​a​ ​student representative.​ ​ ​Although​ ​this​ ​report​ ​was​ ​the​ ​first​ ​official​ ​government​ ​document​ ​to propose​ ​a​ ​mechanism​ ​by​ ​which​ ​students​ ​could​ ​represent​ ​their​ ​interests​ ​at​ ​the​ ​board level,​ ​the​ ​first​ ​school​ ​board​ ​to​ ​enact​ ​legislation​ ​allowing​ ​a​ ​non-voting​ ​student representative​ ​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​ ​stood​ ​as​ ​a​ ​cooperative​ ​syndicate​ ​that​ ​boldly and​ ​progressively​ ​bridged​ ​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​ ​years,​ ​the​ ​OSTA-AECO​ ​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,​ ​extracurricular​ ​activity fees​ ​and​ ​civic​ ​engagement​ ​in​ ​youth,​ ​as​ ​well​ ​as​ ​other​ ​measures​ ​to​ improve​ ​schools across​ ​the​ ​province.

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.

In recent years, OSTA-AECO has acted as a key stakeholder in Ontario’s education community, releasing various position papers on LGBTQ+ gender expression and gender inclusivity, as well as advocating for mental health and wellness through the Ontario Public Students’ Wellness Summit (OPSWS). Through the standing committees of OSTA-AECO, student trustees from across the province are able to facilitate the Ontario Student Voice Awards (OSVAs), as well as gather valuable data through the Ontario Student Parent and Educator Survey (OSPES). Furthermore, OSTA-AECO has worked very closely with the standing committee for Indigenous Affairs to ensure all voices are heard at the provincial level, and thanks to the standing committee on policy can work tirelessly to advocate for reforms to encourage greater equity across Ontario. Through the student well-being committee, and with the help of our valued partners, student trustees can work to ensure that students in Ontario remain healthy and active, to facilitate a more productive work environment. Finally, the standing committee on progress ensures that the student trustees in Ontario are best equipped to advocate for their students at the board table and across their districts.