Ontario public high-school teachers will begin taking job action in less than two weeks, stopping a long list of services including attending staff meetings, standardized tests and school open houses.
The job action will start at about 10 school boards across the province on Nov. 7, with others expected to follow suit in the coming weeks. The boards that are about to enter a legal strike position are spread across the province but are expected to include Toronto, Waterloo Region and Guelph’s Upper Grand District school districts.
The Ontario Secondary School Teachers’ Federation is directing members to not answer parent e-mails outside the school day, attend staff or department meetings, participate in professional development activities, conduct parent interviews outside the school day or participate in the administration of province-wide standardized tests.
“It’s meant to create a pressure point,” said federation president Ken Coran. “This is a serious situation.”
He said progress was made in negotiations at a Wednesday meeting with Minister of Education Laurel Broten and that he was hopeful a deal could be reached before Nov. 7.
Ms. Broten, however, seemed less optimistic.
“It is very concerning to me to see that OSSTF is prepared to take these strike actions that could put at risk the gains we’ve made in education,” she said in a statement released late Friday.
She said her ministry would be “monitoring closely” the impact of the job action and considering powers afforded under recent legislation. Bill 115, the Putting Students First Act, gives the ministry tools for blocking teacher strikes or job actions, but the government has indicated to school boards that there is no guarantee they would implement those tools before the Dec. 31 deadline set for negotiations.
Some teachers have been withdrawing volunteer services since September, including coaching teams and clubs. This new directive applies to meetings, ministry directives and administrative work and will require all members to follow suit. It will mean that some non-Catholic high schools that have so far avoided the impact of the ongoing dispute between teachers and the Ontario government will see their school year disrupted.
Public high-school teachers voted in favour of strike action in September and have been following the steps required by law and by the Ministry of Labour to be in a legal strike position. Elementary teachers are following similar steps and could also be in a legal strike position in the coming weeks.
“This is regretful,” said Michael Barrett, president of the Ontario Public School Boards’ Association. “It does take a dramatic toll on our students.”
He said directives to stop supervisory activities – things like overseeing students in the cafeteria and hallways – were cause for serious concern. Unwatched, students are more likely to engage in unsafe behaviour or to bully one another, he said, and school administrators may struggle to keep common spaces under control.