Ontario Premier Dalton McGuinty called on the province’s teachers to restore extra-curricular activities and to fight his government in the courts instead of the classroom.
“Why do we have to involve our students in this,” Mr. McGuinty told reporters on Tuesday. “It’s one thing for teachers to withdraw their goodwill from us. But it’s another to withdraw the goodwill from students.”
Extra-curricular activities are an important part of an “enriched educational experience,” Mr. McGuinty said. But he ruled out making coaching sports teams and helping students after class mandatory for teachers.
“You can’t pay for goodwill,” he said. “Goodwill is something that you bring to the table as a consummate, committed professional.”
Mr. McGuinty's comments come after The Globe and Mail reported that Ontario's students are likely to go as long as two years without sports teams, clubs, field trips and after-school help as the dispute between teachers and the Liberal government drags on.
Students have been walking out of class to demand their favourite activities be restored, but they’re unlikely to get their wish any time soon.
"It is something that causes us grave concern," Education Minister Laurel Broten told reporters on Tuesday.
While Ms. Broten has legislative powers to block teachers from striking, she cannot force them to resume unpaid duties, such as coaching sports teams, overseeing student councils and helping kids after class who need extra academic support.
As long as the dispute remains unresolved – and especially if the government forces an end to the strike – teachers are unlikely to resume extracurriculars until the government’s imposed contract terms expire in the fall of 2014, say union leaders and school board officials.
“We could end up with up to two years of labour strife in this province,” said Michael Barrett, president of the Ontario Public School Boards’ Association. “I’m not sure how they’re going to come to a resolution to this.”
Mr. Barrett said the strike could impact more than the activities students enjoy before and after school. He received an e-mail from a Grade 12 student who feared her grades are suffering without the after-school math help she had come to rely on from her teachers.
“It’s not just school plays. It’s going to impact student achievement,” Mr. Barrett said.
Student Kelvin Brooks, who attends Grand River Collegiate Institute in Kitchener, Ont., fears the labour strife will mean his two younger siblings, one of whom will start high school next year, could miss out on extracurriculars that make for a more well-rounded academic experience.
“I’m afraid for them,” said Mr. Brooks, 18, who participates in sports and was on student council. “With that coming to an end, what is there to high school other than class from 9 to 3? I’m afraid that some kids might lose their motivation.”
Other jurisdictions in Canada and the United States compensate teachers for leading extracurricular activities, either through pay or time off. The Mike Harris government did suggest making extracurriculars part of a teacher’s working day, but unions were strongly opposed.
On Monday, elementary-school teachers started the first in a series of one-day walkouts, which will close schools across the province over the next two weeks before the Christmas holidays. High-school teachers have withdrawn extracurriculars and stopped supervising students outside the classroom, expressing their frustration at the Liberal government and Bill 115, which dictates the terms of their contracts and restricts their ability to strike.
The teachers’ unions have launched a court challenge of Bill 115, arguing that it infringes on their rights to collective bargaining. Union leaders contacted by The Globe and Mail Monday warned that the fight with the minority Liberal government would continue until Bill 115 was repealed.
“As long as the government allows the type of constraints in bargaining that Bill 115 has imposed, it’s very unlikely that [a return to] normalcy will occur any time in the future,” said David Clegg, president of York Region’s elementary teachers bargaining unit, which will walk out on Thursday. “I think the government has so fundamentally miscalculated this whole situation, they’ve discounted the goodwill of teachers and how critical that is to public education.”
Ken Coran, president of the Ontario Secondary School Teachers’ Federation, said his members enjoy participating in extracurriculars, and withdrawing from these voluntary services is an indication of how strongly opposed they are to the legislation. Asked if the withdrawal of extracurriculars could last two years, Mr. Coran said: “I’m not ruling it out.”
Mr. McGuinty said on Tuesday that many other groups, including doctors and teachers in French-speaking and Catholic boards, have been able to negotiate agreements that acknowledge the pressure his government is under to eliminate a $14.4-billion deficit.
“Now we need teachers to see the light of day as well,” he said. “We’ve got a great record of working together. The only thing that’s changed is the global economy and we’ve got to take that into account as we negotiate new agreements.”
Mr. McGuinty denied that the escalating tensions with the province’s teachers have tarnished his legacy of restoring labour peace in Ontario during his nine years in office.
“First of all, this is not about anybody’s legacy,” he said. "This is about doing the right thing today for students and for teachers and for education in Ontario.”