More than 1,500 Durham Region high-school teachers walked off the job on Monday and picket lines went up at local schools, leaving about 24,000 students out of the classroom.
After talks with a mediator on the weekend, central bargaining negotiations involving the provincial government, school boards and the Ontario Secondary School Teachers Federation resumed on Monday morning. Local bargaining between the OSSTF and the Durham District School Board, which covers an area east of Toronto that includes Ajax, Whitby, Pickering and Oshawa, has yet to restart.
Cameron Penn, a Grade 12 student at Pine Ridge Secondary School in Pickering, visited the picket line at the Durham school board on Monday morning, where he saw some of his teachers walking in the rain.
At that time, he said, he should have been in his calculus class.
"These are all very intense courses, university courses, so the fact that we're missing them and might have to make it back up later is going to be quite chaotic for the students and the teachers," he said.
Several students, including Mr. Penn, sent out a statement on Friday urging a resolution to the teachers dispute to avoid cancelling classes. "We, the students, are not taking a 'side' but instead ask all parties to work together to form an agreement to avoid a strike," the statement read.
Dave Barrowclough, president of OSSTF District 13 (Durham Region), said future bargaining dates have yet to be arranged through a mediator. Both sides are taking a "cooling-off period," he said.
"We are prepared to bargain at any time," he said. "We want this strike done. That's our goal. But we need a serious person at the other end to bargain with."
Michael Barrett, chair of the Durham District School Board and head of the Ontario Public School Boards Association, said local negotiations need a new framework to continue after talks broke down on Saturday evening.
"The mood was not conducive to further discussions based upon the union messaging with regards to respect and whether or not we are serious at the table," he said.
OSSTF provincial president Paul Elliott said he hopes that the renewal of central bargaining and the escalation to strike action will push local talks forward. "I'm hoping that now that we've resumed negotiations at the provincial level and the strike started, those two factors alone might lead [the Durham school board] to come to the table and bargain."
In a statement released on Monday, Education Minister Liz Sandals called the stalled talks between the OSSTF and the Durham board "disappointing."
Six other Ontario school boards have been designated for possible strike action. An April 27 date has been set for a strike at the Rainbow District School Board in Northern Ontario.