Public elementary school teachers across Ontario will start one-day walkouts in the second week of December, and high-school teachers are considering whether to join their counterparts on the picket lines, The Globe and Mail has learned.
Multiple school boards will likely shutter their buildings during the walkouts, leaving parents scrambling to find alternative child care. Daycares attached to schools should remain open, some school-board officials say.
“I don’t expect many parents to be sympathetic,” said David Clegg, president of York Region’s elementary teachers. “But I do expect them – if they can be objective – to understand the impossible position we’ve been put in by legislation that has completely destroyed a bargaining process that has worked in the province for over 50 years.”
The walkouts are expected to hit different boards on different days.
The action by about 76,000 teachers is a shot across the bow to the Liberal government in response to legislation that dictates the terms of teachers’ contracts and restricts their ability to strike. After union leaders announced the plan for walkouts on Wednesday, many parents feared their children’s schooling could suffer.
“Parents expect us to protect the learning experience for their kids, and strikes aren’t in their best interests,” Education Minister Laurel Broten told reporters at Queen’s Park.
In a radio interview Friday, Ms. Broten declined three times to say whether she would order teachers back. But she left open the option, noting that her government had the legislative power to impose a settlement or prohibit a specific job action.
“If we find ourselves in that circumstance, and I certainly hope that we do not, if we need to respond we have the tools and we will respond,” she told CBC’s Matt Galloway. “It certainly is one of the tools but, you know, I don’t want to speculate on what tool would be used because we are not yet in that circumstance.”
Leaders of the Ontario Secondary School Teachers’ Federation will meet on Monday to discuss next steps after their members voted down locally bargained deals and talks fell apart. Some members are advocating for high-school teachers to join their elementary school counterparts on the picket lines, sources said, but a decision won’t be made before Monday. High-school teachers at nearly all of the province’s 31 public-school boards are in a legal strike position.
Teachers say they have no other option than to strike, and have promised to give three days notice to parents before walking out. However, they have expressed unwillingness to be out of the classrooms for long.
Mr. Clegg said he and his members have been told by the executive of the Elementary Teachers’ Federation of Ontario that they will walk out for a day the week of Dec. 10, and teachers at some other boards will go out at the same time. In Toronto, where elementary school teachers will be in a legal strike position around Dec. 10, teachers were notified by e-mail that there will be a one-day strike before Dec. 21.
“It has not been determined whether there will be further one-day walkouts in the following weeks,” Mr. Clegg added.
School boards are in the process of deciding whether to lock their doors for the day. A spokesman for York Region District School Board said the decision about whether to remain open would be made on a school-by-school basis, according to available staff, transportation and other factors. An official from the Peel District School Board said that schools could remain open, with principals ushering the students who attend to the cafeteria or auditorium for a movie.
Teachers at both the elementary and high school levels began showing their frustration in September after the introduction of Bill 115. The minority Liberal government says the terms imposed on the teachers will help reduce a $14.8-billion deficit while preserving job-generating initiatives such as caps on primary class sizes and full-day kindergarten.
In response, teachers have been withdrawing voluntary services, including coaching and supervising clubs. High-school teachers at some boards have been engaged in legal job action since early November, not submitting attendance records or supervising students outside the classroom.
Tentative deals reached between a handful of school boards and local union bargaining units began unravelling on Tuesday. Teachers at the York Region and Niagara District boards rejected the deals, which Ms. Broten had approved. OSSTF leaders this week suspended all talks with school boards.
The unions have launched a court challenge of the legislation.