A ruling that kept Ontario teachers from walking off the job Friday has deepened tensions between educators and the Liberal government and has school officials and students fearing the worst.
The Ontario Labour Relations Board ruled early Friday morning that a one-day protest planned by the Elementary Teachers’ Federation of Ontario was an illegal strike, forcing 76,000 teachers to call off their walkout. High-school teachers, who planned to walk off the job Wednesday, also cancelled their strike action.
Premier Dalton McGuinty’s bid to keep schools from shuttering may have been successful, but it won’t bring peace to Ontario’s restless public-school system. Some elementary teachers held protests outside of school hours Friday. Members of the Elementary Teachers of Toronto clad in black are expected to rally outside the Ministry of Education offices next Tuesday evening.
The ruling only served to anger teachers, many of whom continue to withdraw their participation in sports teams and clubs in protest of the Liberals’ Bill 115, which set a Dec. 31 deadline for bargaining, and enabled the province to impose a contract this month that froze wages and cut sick days. Union leaders have suggested that these activities could be withheld until the fall of 2014, the duration of the two-year, government-imposed contract.
“[The ruling] changes nothing. It has angered and disappointed teachers … This is not the end,” said Michael Barrett, president of the Ontario Public School Boards’ Association. “Now that ‘out of the classroom’ political protest has been limited, it means ‘in the classroom’ manifestations of unrest become the only option left and available to teachers.”
Kourosh Houshmand, a student trustee at the Toronto District School Board, said he worried the growing resentment teachers feel for the Liberal government will only extend the “extracurricular hangover” that has prompted educators to stop leading clubs and sports teams.
“It just sucks the energy out of the school,” he said.
Union leaders vowed to keep up their fight against the government and say it won’t be business as usual in schools.
Ken Coran, head of the Ontario Secondary School Teachers’ Federation, said the withdrawal of extracurriculars is the only tool teachers have at their disposal to express their frustration with a government-imposed contract.
“They’re giving that up to show people that an injustice was caused, and they want it to be fixed,” Mr. Coran said in an interview Friday.
Mr. McGuinty, a departing premier who has built his now-tarnished reputation on peace in the education system, made another appeal Friday to teachers to restore sports teams and clubs. “If you want to withhold goodwill, then withhold goodwill from the government. We can take that. But don’t withhold goodwill from your students. They need you,” he said.
Mr. McGuinty said he was pleased with the labour board ruling, but disappointed that parents had to be put through a roller-coaster in the days leading up to it. Parents across the province scrambled Friday morning after learning schools would remain open, only a day after being that buildings would be closed because of the teacher walkout.
The TDSB, Canada’s largest school board, said only half of its elementary students showed up Friday morning. Students were not being marked as absent, but rather given a “grant day” so they could keep their attendance records intact. Other school boards said attendance appeared to be similar to that of a snow day, and varied from school to school.
One Toronto parent said only eight out of 20 students showed up at his son’s Grade 1 class, and, as a result, they could not move ahead with planned lessons.
Another parent, Samantha Malone, a Mississauga resident, said she received an e-mail from her son’s school at 5:39 a.m. Friday, informing her school was open. Her husband had already committed to taking the day off, so seven-year-old Liam got to play with his dad in the morning, and was dropped off after lunch.
Of the labour strife, Ms. Malone said: “All in all, very confusing and a great deal of unnecessary stress for us – and for Liam.”