Public high schools across Ontario are shut down today as teachers stage a one-day strike amid tense contract talks with Doug Ford’s government.
The moves are affecting public school boards, tens of thousands of students and parents, who have been left scrambling to find alternate arrangements for their children. Some after-school and night programs are also affected by the walkout.
The Ontario Secondary School Teachers’ Federation (OSSTF) launched the strike at midnight Tuesday night following another failed day of negotiations with the government. The union has had difficult negotiations with previous provincial governments, but this is the first time since 1997 its members have gone on strike.
However, in some cases Catholic, French, or elementary schools have been forced to close as a result of the strike.
In Ottawa, for example, there are enough OSSTF workers in some elementary schools that public boards were forced to shut.
Ford’s government is also locked in contract talks with public elementary teachers, who are currently staging a work-to-rule campaign, and English Catholic teachers, who will be in a legal strike position before Christmas.
Teachers are expected to set up picket lines at local schools Wednesday.
Students march in solidarity
While some students are happy to be sleeping in, others backed the teachers by marching.
Ivy Deng, a student trustee with the Toronto District School Board (TDSB), the city’s largest, said students are supporting teachers because they are defending their education.
“We’re finally being heard. We’re finally being fought for,” Deng said.
Her school, Earl Haig, has struggled with large class sizes this year particularly for courses including math and English.
Deng said she thinks the teachers, not the government, are more committed to dealing with that problem.
“We should be in class today, but we should not be forced to sit in sub-par classrooms.”
Eesha Chauhan, a Grade 11 student at Riverdale Collegiate, also highlighted concerns with class size.
“I had to drop my math course,” she said, adding that with 42 students in one room, she found it too loud to learn.
Chauhan said she now plans to take math as a night course.
Union, government appear to be struggling with talks
Also Wednesday, Education Minister Stephen Lecce blasted the union, calling the one-day strike “unacceptable” for Ontario families.
“Our students deserve to be in class today,” he told CBC Radio in the morning.
Lecce defended his government’s role in bargaining, saying it had made a number of moves at the table. However, he said the union has rejected the government’s ask that it come up with its own proposals to help cut costs in the education system.
“They’ve said no, no and no.”
Lecce wouldn’t confirm if he had offered to reconsider class size increases if teachers would agree to one per cent wage increases, but indicated that’s the pay increase the government is offering.
“We’ve offered one per cent knowing they’re the second highest paid in the nation.”
At a news conference Tuesday night, Harvey Bischof, president of the OSSTF, said the government had not presented any new proposals in the past four days of bargaining at a downtown Toronto hotel.
The union says its main issue is with the government’s plans to increase class sizes and introduce mandatory e-learning courses.
“We came to the hotel on Saturday morning four days ago with hope, hope that the government would finally move forward with proposals that are good for Ontario students,” Bischof said.
“Over four days of bargaining, the Ford government did not forward a single proposal to secure quality of education for Ontario students, not a single proposal to protect class sizes [and] not a single proposal to ensure students have access to the support staff that some of them require to be successful.”
The OSSTF has been without a contract since the end of August and started a work-to-rule campaign last week.
Schools shut down by the one-day walkout include those at these boards:
- Peel District School Board.
- York Region District School Board.
- Durham District School Board.
- Waterloo Region District School Board.
- Hamilton-Wentworth District School Board.
- Thames Valley District School Board in London.
- Ottawa-Carleton District School Board.
- Simcoe Muskoka Catholic District School Board.
- Lakehead Public Schools.