With the potential threat of a full shutdown of Ontario schools Friday still looming, it’s time for teacher unions and the province to put student needs ahead of costs and settle their labour dispute, says the 17-year-old president of the Ontario Student Trustees’ Association (OSTA), which represents two million public and Catholic pupils.
“These things should not continue to happen,” said Sally Meseret of a plan by Ontario’s public, Catholic and French-language school teachers to walk off the job for one day.
She said teachers and Education Minister Stephen Lecce need to ask themselves, “Is what is taking place in the best interest of students? Is there anything we can do to make sure we prioritize students? Are we focusing on students or are we focusing on other matters in education?”
Meseret’s comments come as the OSTA releases its recommendations Tuesday for the spending it says students want to see in the next provincial budget — items that reflect concerns about a lack of mental health supports, access to school nutrition programs, special education and online learning.
The government announced Tuesday morning that all parties have been called back to the negotiating table by the mediator.
If the strike goes ahead Friday, it is expected to be the first time in more than 20 years that teachers from the public, Catholic and French school systems have gone on strike together. Union leaders said last week it was a united effort to reach a deal after their last contract expired in August.
Meseret, who attends the Durham District School Board, said the ongoing dispute, which has kept elementary and high school students at home for days this year, is putting students’ education in jeopardy. Even Grade 12 students like herself, who have already submitted their university applications, are worried.
“Grade 12 is supposed to be that crowning year after 12 years in the system. We’re not just worried about ourselves. We’re looking to students just coming into high school. They’re in Grade 8. What is the impact of this strike action on students that are just entering the system,” said Meseret, who says her younger siblings in elementary school are also missing classroom time.
Both the government and teachers need to look at education as an investment rather than a cost, she said, citing research showing a relationship between education and reduced social welfare and health care spending.
“It’s not a matter of if the money is going to be spent, it’s a matter of when the money is going to be spent and it’s better to do it up front,” Meseret said.
The trustees association’s 30-page budget submission is based on a January survey of students across the province and is meant to put the needs of students in a budget. The budget includes the everyday concerns students have and why it should be taken into consideration.
Among its recommendations to the government:
- More mental health supports for students given that eight to 10 per cent of schools in the northern and southwestern parts of the province don’t have access to regularly scheduled psychologists and two-thirds of parents in the southwest region are concerned about their children’s anxiety.
- A voluntary student census that would track demographic information on the student population in all school boards. The students also want human rights and equity advisers in all school boards with extra support for high priority areas.
- A continued commitment to addressing a $16.3-billion backlog of capital repairs in Ontario schools and a standard of good repair for all schools that would also be applied to portables and play structures.
Get more of today’s top stories in your inbox
Sign up for the Star’s Morning Headlines email newsletter for a briefing of the day’s big news.
- The continuation of a Local Priorities Fund that was established in the 2017-2018 budget to pay for about 2,000 additional teachers and education workers to support at-risk students. OSTA says the ministry has not yet committed to continuing the funding past the expiry of those workers’ contracts.
- More investments in online learning to meet increasing demand. OSTA has already rejected the provincial plan to make two online credits mandatory in Ontario schools.