Strike action closes county’s schools
By Jenn Watt
Rotating one-day strikes involved teachers at the county’s high school, alternate education centre, and elementary schools on Tuesday, as the unions intensify job action over stalled negotiations with the province.
“We are asking parents to stand with us to protect the future of public education,” said Karen Bratina, president of the Trillium Lakelands teacher local of the Elementary Teachers’ Federation of Ontario, in a media release. “The programs we are fighting for today will have an impact on the education of students now and in the future.”
ETFO had previously announced its members would not be supervising field trips or extra-curricular activities to demonstrate their dissatisfaction at how negotiations were going. Late last week, the union gave the mandatory five days’ notice of this week’s strike.
Issues important to ETFO include protecting the kindergarten program, teacher compensation, smaller class sizes, and resources for students with special needs.
“Since late December, Education Minister [Stephen] Lecce’s team has shown no interest in returning to contract talks to discuss key issues affecting students, student learning and educators,” Bratina said. “A strike is the only means for educators to force the government to get serious about negotiations and the future of public education.”
The Trillium Lakelands ETFO local will be picketing school sites as well as MPP Laurie Scott’s office and MPP Norm Miller’s office.
Responding to the announced job action, Lecce said the government would be offering financial child-care compensation to parents with children up to age 12 for every day strikes keep them out of school.
“While unions impose hardship on families and students, our government is taking proactive steps to ensure students remain cared for – and families supported – in the event that unions decide to further escalate job action in their fight for enhanced compensation and other demands,” Lecce said in a statement.
ETFO said the government was trying to bribe parents with their own dollars and indicated that money should be invested into public education.
Meanwhile, high school teachers in Trillium Lakelands District School Board will also be striking on Tuesday, Jan. 21. Issues identified by the Ontario Secondary School Teachers’ Federation as important in their negotiations include class sizes, mandatory e-learning, and teacher compensation.
OSSTF has said it would postpone job action if the province “agrees to return to, and maintain, the class size ratios and staffing levels that were in place during the 2018–2019 school year.”
In 2018-2019, the average class size was 22:1. The province wants to increase the average teacher-to-student ratio to 25:1, OSSTF says.
There will be no strikes by secondary school teachers during exam period, OSSTF announced on Jan. 15.
“Throughout this dispute we have made every effort to ensure that our job actions create minimal disruption for students,” said OSSTF president Harvey Bischof. “With that objective in mind, OSSTF/FEESO members will not engage in any work disruptions through the crucial exam period.”
Lecce said that disrupting school the week before exams put additional pressure on students.
“While parents are frustrated by teacher union escalation every few years, it is unacceptable that OSSTF would ramp up strike action at a time when high school students are preparing for exams. I will continue to focus on reaching voluntary agreements with the teachers’ unions, so Ontario students stay in class where they belong,” he said.
Trillium Lakelands District School Board issued an update on its website last week stating that it understood the job action was frustrating and “we hope that a provincial agreement with both ETFO and OSSTF can be reached very soon.”
Schools were closed during the one-day strikes, reopening on Wednesday, Jan. 22.
“Daycares, before and after school programs, and community use of school after-hours programs, are not affected by the strike,” the TLDSB update reads.