Ontario’s public high school teachers and support staff at nine boards have hit the picket lines for a second, day-long strike amid a standoff between their union and the province.
With no talks held in the past week — and none scheduled — the Ontario Secondary School Teachers’ Federation is continuing to put pressure on the Ford government after last Wednesday’s one-day, province-wide walkout.
“OSSTF members would rather be providing services to students today but they know that if they allow this government to continue down its destructive path, the implications for our students will be far more serious than anything arising from our action,” said union President Harvey Bischof on Wednesday morning before heading out to walk several picket lines in Toronto.
The union represents 60,000 public high school teachers as well as educational workers and professional staff — such as speech-language pathologists and psychologists — at a number of elementary and high schools in both French and Catholic boards.
Because of that, some boards have been forced to shut down entirely for the day, including the Simcoe Muskoka Catholic District School Board north of Toronto.
About one-quarter of all OSSTF members are off the job for this second walkout from all corners of the province, including all 7,000 in the Toronto District School Board.
“We care deeply about our students, and we are fighting to restore, and protect from more cuts, those resources we know our students need to succeed,” said Leslie Wolfe, who heads the Toronto local of the OSSTF, its largest.
The nine boards impacted are: Toronto public, Simcoe County, Simcoe Muskoka Catholic, Grand Erie, Brant Haldimand Norfolk Catholic, Hastings and Prince Edward, Near North, Rainy River and Trillium Lakelands.
On Tuesday, Education Minister Stephen Lecce again urged the union to accept his offer of a private mediator, as opposed to the Ministry of Labour mediator who has been at the table, and cancel the strike.
“The objective of this government is to keep kids in class. We are negotiating in good faith to achieve that objective, as we did with CUPE one month ago,” Lecce said, referring to the three-year deal reached in October with support staff.
The government also reached a deal Tuesday with a small education workers union representing about 5,000 full-time employees in a handful of boards.
The OSSTF is fighting government plans to boost high school class sizes from an average of 22 to 25 — resulting in thousands of fewer positions as well as the loss of tens of thousands of course choices for teens — and the loss of any class caps.
It also would like a panel to study e-learning, instead of the government plan to make two credits mandatory for graduation starting next fall.
There is no other jurisdiction in North America with such a requirement. A handful of U.S. states, including Alabama and Florida, require one.
Public School boards and the Ontario Student Trustee Association — which represents all 2 million students in the province — have serious concerns about even two mandatory credits and have also asked the government to back off on the plan.
However, Lecce sent a letter to boards this week noting the government has moved away from the original plan for four online courses.
“These changes to our approach to online learning come from feedback and input from students, parents, and educators,” he wrote.
“Before the launch of the new online learning program, the province will be consulting with Ontarians to ensure our approach to online learning will meet the needs of students and educators. This will include seeking input on appropriate criteria and processes for supporting students who may be exempted from this new graduation requirement.”
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He said “our government believes that high quality, teacher-supported online learning can be transformational for students. It can provide them with new and exciting ways to learn, find the courses they want, and develop the skills they need for a successful future.”
The memo also says online learning “will also explore innovative approaches to online learning, such as modular course designs, and standalone, not-for-credit mini-modules in topics like financial literacy and coding.”
Lecce has said the key issue in bargaining is salary, with the government offering one per cent a year — as per its recent wage cap legislation — and the OSSTF proposed cost of living, or about 2 per cent.