Extracurricular activities will cease in all Ontario public elementary schools this week, on top of two strike days, as labour action escalates following the breakdown of talks between the teachers’ union and the province.
After three days of negotiations on a new contract, the Elementary Teachers’ Federation of Ontario (ETFO), the country’s largest education union with 83,000 members, did not reach a deal with Doug Ford’s government by its Friday deadline.
With plans for two days of rotating strikes moving ahead, parents across the province are scrambling to find care for their children. At the same time, extracurriculars during the school day, such as volleyball practice and school club meetings, will also be cancelled in Ontario’s English public elementary schools. Activities outside the instructional day were cancelled last month.
A number of large institutions and smaller businesses across the province are offering strike day-camps.
In Toronto, Ripley’s Aquarium, the Royal Ontario Museum, the Toronto Zoo and the Ontario Science Centre are among the organizations offering day camps to families affected by strike days this week. Parents will also be able to enroll their children in camps offered by everything from art galleries to karate schools throughout Ontario.
The Electric Moon Theatre Company, based in Thornhill, Ont., is offering a pop-up camp where children play theatre games, do crafts and “learn some songs and dances from Broadway musicals,” owner Carrie Libling said.
Mary Fraser-Hamilton, a high-school drama teacher who lives in Mississauga, will rely on parents and neighbours to look after her children during the strike days.
“It’s sort of a team effort.”
The cancellation of extracurricular activities during the school day means that Ms. Fraser-Hamilton’s son won’t be able to participate in his school’s running club and her daughter won’t be attending any meetings of the environmental club she joined.
Lesley Barron’s children will continue to miss out on their after-school activities, including her son’s running club, her daughter’s practices for a school play and her other daughter’s volleyball practices.
“It’s a drag, but we’ve had the discussion about labour rights so they understand what’s going on,” said Dr. Barron, a general surgeon who lives in Georgetown, Ont.
Her husband will be taking the children sledding on Monday and will also stay home to look after them on Thursday, she said.
“It’s just frustrating because I have to work,” she said. “It’s not like it’s an automatic vacation.” But she knows she’s lucky, since many families won’t be able to have one parent stay home to look after children, she said.
The rotating strike action will continue each week until an agreement is reached, the union said.
All the main teachers’ unions in the province are involved in some type of job action, from work-to-rule to strikes, for the first time in more than 20 years.
Among the issues are class sizes in kindergarten, junior and intermediate grades and high school; mandating that high-school students take two online courses; maintaining the full-day kindergarten program with a teacher and an early childhood educator; and compensation. The unions are asking for 2 per cent cost-of-living increases in line with inflation – in the face of the government’s wage-cap legislation meant to limit public-sector pay increases to 1 per cent.
The Ontario Secondary School Teachers’ Federation will resume its rotating strikes this week, after pausing during the exam period. There have been no talks scheduled between the union and the government.
Meanwhile, the Ontario English Catholic Teachers’ Association is planning to hold its second one-day province-wide strike on Tuesday.
With a report from Caroline Alphonso