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Ontario Education Minister Stephen Lecce speaks at a press conference at Queen's Park in Toronto on March 3, 2020.

The Canadian Press

Ontario’s elementary teachers’ union has reached a tentative deal with the provincial government, ending months of job action.

The Elementary Teachers’ Federation of Ontario (ETFO), the country’s largest education union with 83,000 members, said on Friday evening that it would suspend strike action, pending the results of the ratification vote.

“This has been a very prolonged and difficult bargaining process,” ETFO president Sam Hammond said in a statement. “We are very grateful for the support and unwavering solidarity of our members, and the public who have continued to stand up for public education."

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Education Minister Stephen Lecce said in a statement that the tentative agreement with ETFO “builds further momentum for deals" and follows last week’s tentative deal with the Ontario English Catholic Teachers’ Association.

“We remain focused on landing further deals, to provide stability and certainty to students, parents and educators,” Mr. Lecce said.

The Ontario government has closed schools for two weeks in a bid to limit the spread of COVID-19.

Cathy Abraham, president of the Ontario Public School Boards’ Association, said that all parties worked toward an agreement despite the recent challenges caused by the pandemic. She said the deal will help "bring some stability to our system during what is obviously an unprecedented and rapidly evolving situation.”

All four main teachers unions have been engaged in job action over the past few months as tensions with the government have risen.

The only two unions without agreements are the Ontario Secondary School Teachers’ Federation and the Association des enseignantes et des enseignants franco-ontariens.

The Catholic teachers union and ETFO renewed talks with the government and school trustees associations after Mr. Lecce announced changes to the province’s proposals earlier this month.

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He said his government had made a commitment to maintain full-day kindergarten and fund supports for special education and other learning needs negotiated in a previous contract.

The government also softened its stand on increasing average class sizes in high school, reducing the maximum number to 23 for the length of the contract. Previously, the government had set a goal of 28 and then 25, which would have led to thousands of fewer teachers over four years. The current average is 22.9.

Further, Mr. Lecce said parents could meet with school guidance counsellors to opt their children out of two online courses that are required to graduate from high school. The province had initially planned to have four online courses.

As part of the new offer, the government would require unions to comply with its wage-cap legislation, meant to limit public-sector pay increases to 1 per cent, and wants concessions on a seniority-based hiring regulation.

Teachers and education workers have been without a contract since the end of August.

Last month, all publicly funded schools were shuttered as the four main education unions took part in the first ever provincewide legal strike.

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The issues for the various unions include class-size increases in high school, mandatory online courses for high-school students, benefits and a hiring regulation that gives supply teachers with more seniority an edge in getting chosen for long-term occasional and permanent teaching positions.

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