Hundreds of Toronto public elementary teachers are facing disciplinary action from principals for submitting incomplete fall report cards, even though they were following the direction of their union leaders, The Globe and Mail has learned.
Individual principals have chosen to target more than 700 teachers, who are being accused of insubordination and face the possibility of having a disciplinary letter placed in their files. The tactic further poisons an already-fragile relationship between administrators and their teaching staff during a provincewide conflict that has rattled Ontario's public education system.
"Everyone's nervous, there have been tears," said a Toronto District School Board elementary teacher, who has a disciplinary meeting scheduled for early January. "We need to be working together, and what the TDSB did was further create a divide by … making it look like teachers didn't do their jobs."
Tensions in schools have been building since September when teachers across Ontario began withdrawing voluntary services, including coaching sports teams, supervising clubs and helping students with extra academic supports after school, to show their anger at the provincial government for imposing the terms of their contract through legislation.
The Elementary Teachers' Federation of Ontario directed its members in October to fill out only the bare minimum – a single sentence – on report cards. The TDSB told principals to withhold any report cards they felt were incomplete or did not accurately reflect student progress. That resulted in 19 per cent of report cards not going home – and some of those teachers are now being held to account.
Martin Long, head of the Elementary Teachers of Toronto local union, said the decision by principals at Maurice Cody Junior, Brown Junior, Dewson Street Junior, Dixon Grove Junior and Faywood among other schools is generating "a lot of ill-will" that will keep the conflict alive for months.
"I did my best to persuade the board that this was not the path that would be productive," Mr. Long said in an interview Wednesday. "We didn't think it was necessary, it was a one-off situation. I tried my best, but they seemed to be stuck on that course."
Teachers who are disciplined for insubordination have a permanent notice included in their files that could make it more difficult for them to move between schools or move into a principal or vice-principal position.
Simon Storey, chair of the Toronto School Administrators' Association, said that after report cards were initially filled out, principals who felt the comments were inadequate asked teachers to bolster their remarks. Some complied, but others declined, triggering the disciplinary process.
"It was very, very difficult," he said. "I know some [principals] were really struggling with this decision."
Mr. Storey defended the decision some principals made, saying even though the report cards met Ministry of Education standards, they fell short of communicating a complete picture of student progress to parents.
"Principals are really caught in the middle," he said. "They have to balance between the demands of parents and the actions of staff, and it's not easy at the end of the day."
The elementary teacher facing discipline, who requested anonymity, said teachers at her school decided to go beyond what the union had directed. The teachers explained to parents why their children were having difficulty, for example, and filled out comments in the numeracy and literacy sections. They refrained from providing comments on physical education, arts, science and social studies.
"We haven't been told what will come of this," said the teacher, who has more than a decade of experience. "We have been waiting for a month to find out how we're going to be punished for following the union's rules."
Mr. Long said his union representatives are scheduling meetings with principals. Teachers could be disciplined with an insubordination note in their files or handed a letter of concern, an informal disciplinary measure, he said.
"How far the board is going to go with it, I don't know," Mr. Long said. "I don't want to generate conflict with the board. We want to keep the focus of our protests on the Ministry [of Education]."
Teachers across the province are angry and frustrated with the Dalton McGuinty government for introducing Bill 115, a controversial piece of legislation that dictates the terms of their contract and restricts their ability to strike. Elementary teachers are staging one-day walkouts across the province, and high-schools teachers have withdrawn extracurricular activities.