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The question

I've heard that elementary school teachers in Ontario will be walking out for a day before the Christmas holidays. I'm worried that I may not be able to take the day off work. Will my child still be able to attend school that day if there are no teachers in classrooms?

The answer

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Without a doubt, it is a frustrating time to be a student in Ontario. High school teachers are escalating their job action by stopping extracurricular activities such as clubs, sports and fundraisers. And now, elementary school teachers are staging rotating one-day walkouts in response to controversial legislation that dictates the terms of their contracts and restricts their ability to strike. All this in the lead-up to the Christmas break.

The good news – if there's any to be had – is that the union representing elementary teachers has promised parents 72 hours notice before walking out. That hopefully gives you enough time to patch something together for your kids, whether it's taking a day off work, pooling babysitting services with the neighbours or finding a day-long program.

Even though schools are shuttered for the day, principals, vice-principals and support staff will be present. At some school boards, that means students who show up won't be left out in the cold; administrators will work to reach parents or caregivers to pick-up their children, because they may not have understood that schools were closed, or keep the children occupied with a movie. Don't count on it being an option at every school, though: Other boards will treat it as a snow day and keep their doors shut.

But don't despair. There are options, especially if you can't take the day off work. In Stratford, Ont., where elementary schools will be shut Monday because of the walkouts, the YMCA is welcoming for the entire day those who otherwise attend just the before- and after-school programs. Many other daycares also plan on running full-day programs for children who usually only go before or after school. The YMCA in Stratford is also looking to see if it can make room for other children who don't normally attend the daycare program. "We have a responsibility to the children and their families. What we're trying to do is accommodate them as best as we can," said Mimi Price, the YMCA Stratford's chief executive officer.

With 72-hours notice, parents have enough time to call a YMCA, their municipal recreation centres or any typical summer day-camp or March Break providers to see if they can take kids in for the day, Price said. Many will be ramping up their services so they can do that.

The Guidance Counsellor is a column that answers reader questions on navigating the education system. Send your questions to

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Education Reporter

Caroline Alphonso is an education reporter for The Globe and Mail. More


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