Leaders of the union representing elementary-school teachers are warning of more disruptions and walkouts to come as families brace for the biggest one-day strike so far in Ontario’s restless public-school system.
Hundreds of thousands of students are being locked out of schools on Tuesday. Leaders of the Elementary Teachers’ Federation of Ontario vowed to continue job action when classes resume in January, and although Education Minister Laurel Broten has the power to block a strike, use of those powers is likely to trigger further protests.
“If she does that, then we’re in a whole new world of pain because we’re going to start political protests then and we’re not going to back away from it,” said Gerard O’Neill, president of the Durham District School Board’s elementary-teachers’ local.
Beyond the one-day rotating strikes, elementary teachers have already voted to stage a day of protest – essentially an illegal, or “wildcat” strike – if Ms. Broten uses her powers under Bill 115 to try to stop them from engaging in job action. (High-school teachers are currently voting on the same plan, and results are expected at the end of the week.)
Meanwhile, job action by teachers who are withdrawing from administrative duties is expected to continue. As long as tensions remain with the Ontario government, teachers are unlikely to resume voluntary activities, such as coaching sports teams, supervising clubs and offering students extra academic support after school.
“We’re going to deliver on that day of protest and were going to deliver on everything we can,” Mr. O’Neill said.
Nearly 392,000 students will be shut out of classrooms Tuesday, as teachers at eight public school boards, including Toronto, Peel and Durham district school boards, stage the largest walkouts yet.
Parents are responding by taking the day off work, making alternative child-care arrangements and signing up for special strike-day events such as free general admission to the Art Gallery of Ontario and sports clinics through Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment.
Annie Kidder, executive director of People for Education, said the day of action was an “inconvenience” to parents, but that many were more concerned about the new year.
“It’s the long-term impact that’s really worrying,” she said. “I think parents are much more concerned about extracurriculars than a one-day walkout.”
The ongoing dispute is having a daily impact on classrooms. About 130 Grade 7 and 8 pupils at Glen Ames Senior Public School walked out for nearly the entire school day Monday to protest against the situation. The demonstration was neither school nor board-sanctioned and classes continued without them, according to an e-mail the principal sent to parents.
Elementary teachers have been abandoning classrooms in a rotating schedule of one-day strikes for nearly two weeks, and the government has said it will not block them as long as the walkouts are limited to one day. Pressure is mounting on the government, however, to stop the disruption and the Ministry of Education has indicated it will be more willing to act after Dec. 31, when the deadline for bargaining has passed.
Tuesday’s picket lines will be targeted at the Liberal government, including candidates for the party’s leadership. Teachers in Toronto will picket outside the offices of former education minister Kathleen Wynne, Glen Murray and Eric Hoskins, while in Peel they will picket the office of Charles Sousa.
The Ontario Liberals have said that cutting teachers’ sick days down from 20 to 10, and delaying a pay grid that sees their salaries climb from about $40,000 to $90,000 over 10 years was necessary in order to tackle a $14-billion provincial deficit, while preserving job-generating programs such as caps on primary-class sizes and full-day kindergarten.