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Ontario’s high-school teachers’ union has filed notice to start bargaining – a move that comes as hundreds of educators across the province fear that their jobs are on the line.

Doug Ford’s government recently introduced a regulation that would allow it to start bargaining with education unions as early as April 29, a month ahead of the traditional schedule and in the hopes of minimizing labour disruptions in the fall. Contracts for all education unions expire at the end of August.

Harvey Bischof, president of the Ontario Secondary School Teachers’ Federation (OSSTF), said his organization sent letters to the school boards’ association and the government on Monday stating its intention to begin negotiations. His union is the first to do so.

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“The window to submit notice opened and we want to get to the table and put forward proposals that are good for students,” Mr. Bischof said in an interview on Monday.

Mr. Bischof declined to discuss what proposals his union will put forward to the government, saying those details will become “clearer as we go forward.” The notice to bargain is generally a procedural move.

The government has caused a lot of uncertainty in the education sector after it announced plans to increase average class sizes by one student in Grades 4 to 8, and to 28 from 22 in high school – eliminating an estimated 3,475 teaching positions across the province over the next four years as it tries to trim a deficit it pegs at $11.7-billion.

School boards are still waiting on technical details from the government following last Friday’s announcement that it would spend $24.66-billion on education in the 2019-20 school year, a moderate increase from this year’s $24.61-billion. The increase includes $564.4-million, the first instalment of a $1.6-billion transitional fund that the government said will be used to prevent teacher layoffs.

Education Minister Lisa Thompson has stressed that there will be no layoffs, and that teaching positions would be lost through attrition, meaning that educators who retire or voluntarily leave their job would not be replaced.

Several boards contend that there would still be layoffs because of previous grant cutbacks by the government. They have also warned that class-size increases will mean the loss of elective courses that require small groupings of students, including art and the skilled trades.

Senior students at one high school in Mississauga, Cawthra Park Secondary School, learned last week that a number of courses in the arts, technology and social sciences were being scaled back because they will have five fewer teachers as a result of class-size increases. And the Near North District School Board said last week that it will be issuing “redundancy notices” to about half of its high-school teaching staff because of changes to class sizes.

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