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Thousands of Toronto's Roman Catholic elementary school students will be home today after the school board and its teachers failed to reach a settlement in contract negotiations.

The Toronto Catholic District School Board warned this week that it would lock out teachers today if an agreement were not reached with the union on working conditions, salaries and benefits.

As a result of the lockout, parents of 69,000 students have been left scrambling to make child-care arrangements.

Parked outside St. Mary Catholic School yesterday, Ken Kwan said he would have to keep his three children with a tutor until the dispute is resolved.

"What can we do?" he asked as he read a letter on the state of negotiations between the two sides.

His eight-year-old daughter Tina said: "I don't want this. I want school because it's fun."

But Mr. Kwan's older son Tate was happy to have the time off. "I got too much homework already," he said from the back seat of the car.

School-board chairman Joseph Carnevale said that although parents have been asked to keep their children at home, schools will not turn away what he hopes will be only a few students who do show up.

At St. Luigi Catholic School and St. Vincent de Paul Catholic School, the two institutions that Holly Jones attended, extra support staff will be on hand to help students cope with the slaying of the 10-year-old girl this week.

Mr. Carnevale said the board had no choice but to lock teachers out after the union refused to budge in negotiations. He said the board's latest offer to teachers was a 6.5-per-cent increase in salaries and benefits over two years, up from the 6 per cent it had offered earlier.

That would put teachers' top salary at slightly more than $74,000.

The union, however, is looking for $76,000 annually, a wage it says is in line with settlements at some other Toronto-area boards.

"We can appreciate that some other boards may be offering additional dollars, but the reality for this board is what they're asking for . . . is not attainable," Mr. Carnevale said. "It would mean that we would have to take away resources from students."

Art Witham, president of the Toronto Catholic Elementary Teachers' Union, said the board's proposal still wasn't adequate. He noted that the board hasn't met the expectations of teachers in terms of a comprehensive wage-and-benefits package, as well as changes in working conditions.

Teachers will be outside their schools today protesting despite the lockout, which the union says will be the largest in Ontario history.

"It's kind of astounding that the board would deprive students of their education, and deprive teachers of applying their craft in the classroom," Mr. Witham said.

With about a month left in the school year, students have covered the bulk of the curriculum, he added.

The disruption in Catholic elementary schools occurs as the Ontario government begins an advertising campaign promising to ban strikes and lockouts in schools.

Mr. Carnevale said the board will not move on its position until a settlement is reached or until the provincial government intervenes with legislation.

"We're not willing to overextend ourselves and take resources from our kids," he said. "Kids deserve teachers that offer them extracurricular activities and supervision. Right now, they're not getting it."

Catholic elementary teachers went on work-to-rule earlier this month. Teachers have been refusing to supervise extracurricular activities, including graduations and field trips.

"We've sped up the process," Mr. Carnevale said. "If we allowed this work-to-rule campaign to continue, what we envisioned was a system that wasn't allowing the students what they needed."

But Annie Kidder, a spokeswoman for People for Education, said that although the work-to-rule is hard on students, "it's certainly better than having no school at all."

Ms. Kidder said it's difficult to understand why both sides want to escalate the situation to this degree.

"It's only the kids that get hurt by this," she said.

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