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Teachers gathered in large numbers in front of the Minister of Education offices in Toronto, Jan. 15, 2013.Peter Power/The Globe and Mail

Teachers are using voluntary activities as a political tool and compromising the safety and achievement of elementary students by withdrawing them, according to lawyers for two Ontario school boards.

Teachers are being directed by union leaders not to participate in voluntary activities beyond the 300 minute instructional day. The two school boards – Trillium Lakelands and Upper Canada – are arguing before the Ontario Labour Relations Board that the Elementary Teachers' Federation of Ontario (ETFO) has issued directives that constitute an illegal strike.

A lawyer for the school districts, Michael Hines, told the board that directives from the unions left teachers with no other choice but to stop leading sports teams or attending field trips, even though the union is no longer in a legal strike position.

"These types of activities develop life skills," he said, and are being used by teachers to create "political pressure" on the provincial government.

The court case comes as teachers in most of Ontario's schools have stopped voluntary activities such as leading sports clubs and teams in protest of Bill 115, legislation which imposed the terms of their contracts. The new premier, Kathleen Wynne, has made resolving the dispute a top priority, and has agreed to meet with union leaders this week.

Lawyers for ETFO have argued that because Bill 115 has been repealed, teachers don't have collective agreements in place and are in a legal strike position.

Arguments continued Wednesday afternoon, and a decision isn't expected until later this week. Teachers and school boards across the province are watching the case closely, as it may have an impact on ongoing teacher protests.

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