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Ontario Education Minister Stephen Lecce speaks to journalists at Queen's Park, in Toronto, on Aug. 25, 2023.Chris Young/The Canadian Press

Ontario’s teachers have rebuffed a request from the Ministry of Education to let retired teachers work longer, saying the government needs to come up with a real solution to staff shortages.

The Ontario Teachers’ Federation has “reluctantly” agreed over the last three years to let retired teachers work for 95 days a year instead of 50 to address lingering effects from the COVID-19 pandemic, but is saying no to the request for this year because it was supposed to be a short-term measure.

“Deflecting responsibility onto retired teachers is neither a sufficient nor a sustainable option to address staffing challenges,” federation secretary-treasurer Ian Pettigrew wrote in a statement.

“Changing the rule for retired members neither encourages working teachers to remain in the system nor does it attract prospective candidates to join the profession.”

The four major teachers’ unions said Tuesday they support that move by the OTF, saying the use of retired teachers was a “Band-Aid” to a teacher recruitment and retention crisis.

“Ontario has tens of thousands of qualified individuals who are leaving the profession,” the unions representing public elementary, secondary and English Catholic teachers wrote.

“And why are they leaving? Because the Ford government refuses to address the root causes of the issue: the learning and working conditions in Ontario schools coupled with the decade-long suppression of wages and inadequate recognition of teachers’ credentials and expertise.”

A spokesperson for Education Minister Stephen Lecce said the federation’s decision is “disappointing” as the retired teacher measure was a “common-sense” one that was supported by provincial trustee associations and the Ontario Principals Council.

“Despite adding nearly 3,000 more teachers since 2018 and cutting certification timelines in half, school boards have cited their concerns about high rates of teacher absenteeism,” Isha Chaudhuri wrote in a statement.

“The Ontario Teachers’ Federation will need to explain why it’s not a shared priority for them to put in place both short and long-term measures that will keep kids learning in class in front of a qualified teacher.”

The Ontario Public School Boards’ Association said while the retired teacher rule change was a temporary solution, it was much needed.

“At a time when our schools are grappling with a variety of daily staffing challenges, extending the teaching capacity of retired educators could have provided crucial support to students and educators alike,” president Cathy Abraham wrote in a statement.

“Unfortunately, the refusal to consider this proposal exacerbates the strain on an already overburdened education system.”

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