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Around 5,000 teachers and education workers gathered outside the Ontario provincial legislature at Queens Park on Aug. 28 to protest against a controversial bill that would impose wage freezes on Ontario teachers.Fred Lum/The Globe and Mail

Ontario's school boards are scrambling to find ways to keep sports teams and clubs running in high schools after teachers promised to escalate their job action next week by withdrawing voluntary services.

School officials are looking to see if parents can assist with sports teams, while one school board is considering temporarily hiring retired principals. Trustees at the Upper Canada District School Board will discuss at Wednesday night's board meeting whether retired principals can be hired to assist administrators with supervision duties in schools and to help vet volunteers for extracurricular duties.

"I worry about those students for whom extra-curricular activities make high school relevant," said Greg Pietersma, chairman of the Upper Canada District School Board. "There will be activities that are cancelled."

The Ontario Secondary School Teachers' Federation announced Monday that teachers will no longer volunteer for extracurriculars in high schools, a move that will affect thousands of students who count on these outside-the-classroom activities to earn scholarships and impress university recruiters. Teachers' job action had until now been restricted to administrative duties and supervision outside the classroom.

Union leaders did not endorse a plan to join their elementary-school counterparts in walkouts scheduled for the last two weeks before the Christmas holidays, despite pressure from some members.

The withdrawal of services comes as both elementary and high school teachers express their anger with legislation – Bill 115 – that dictates the terms of their contracts and restricts their ability to strike.

Carla Pereira, a spokeswoman for the Peel District School Board, said most extracurriculars would be cancelled or postponed.

"Without a staff sponsor, they can't run. We're reviewing how parents may be able to assist over the next few days," she said.

Education Minister Laurel Broten has threatened to block teachers from walking off the job, but she has refused to say how quickly the government would respond. Although the government has the power to stop job action, and will likely do so after the bargaining deadline of Dec. 31, it cannot force teachers to resume voluntary activities like clubs and coaching.

Elementary-school teachers who are on work-to-rule have also stopped participating in extracurricular activities, field trips, after-school holiday concerts and parent-teacher meetings.

In a bulletin sent to members, leaders of the Elementary Teachers' Federation of Ontario said that those who don't participate in the job action could be subject to discipline, including a fine of up to $500 per day.