Ontario's public elementary-school teachers will refuse to perform some administrative duties – such as administering standardized tests and writing report-card comments – as they seek to crank up the pressure on the government in tough contract talks.
The elementary teachers will not, however, walk off the job or cancel extracurriculars; meaning field trips, sports teams and end-of-year activities will go ahead as planned.
The job action by the Elementary Teachers' Federation of Ontario is set to begin on Monday provincewide, but the union waited until 2 p.m. Friday to officially announce details, leaving parents on tenterhooks all week.
ETFO president Sam Hammond said teachers will withdraw administrative functions until the government and the Ontario Public School Boards' Association (OPSBA) take some of their demands off the bargaining table. He said those demands include the removal of caps on class sizes, more power for principals to tell teachers how to use their preparation time and a bid to circumvent seniority provisions in hiring.
"We will not enter into concession bargaining," he told reporters at a press conference on the patio of ETFO headquarters in Toronto. "I am not giving up anything that my members have right now."
Mr. Hammond said salaries and benefits have not been discussed yet, and the two sides have not even resolved their differences over relatively small questions such as giving occasional teachers keys to unlock classroom doors.
He said pulling administrative functions is "phase one" of job action, and whether he proceeds to phase two depends on whether the government meets his demands. He would not say what phase two would entail. Asked why his union waited until Friday afternoon to announce details, Mr. Hammond said it had taken him time to fill in union members on details of his plan.
Education Minister Liz Sandals said students would be hurt by ETFO's actions, arguing parents need things such as report-card comments to help their children succeed at school. "It isn't fair to take this out on students. It isn't fair to leave parents and students hanging until late Friday afternoon on what's going to happen."
Both Ms. Sandals and OPSBA president Michael Barrett denied they are trying to remove class-size caps.
Mr. Barrett, however, confirmed that he wants to give principals more power over teachers' prep time and school boards more discretion to hire teachers without adhering to strict seniority.
He said current hiring rules "restrict the ability of school boards to hire the very best teachers for the classrooms," and that principals need more power to direct teachers to ensure they are using prep time for educational purposes.
The government is trying to hold the line on spending as it grapples with a massive deficit, leading to difficult talks with teachers and other public-sector unions.
Both sides, however, are avoiding the all-out war that erupted during the past round of talks in 2012. ETFO's approach is designed to thwart the ministry's work without antagonizing students or parents.
Among the tasks elementary teachers will not perform is administering the Education Quality and Accountability tests. The six-hour standardized tests evaluate students on reading, writing and math, and the results are used to measure school performance across the province. This year's elementary-school tests are scheduled for between May 25 and June 5.
Teachers also will not fill in for administrators when asked, and they will not participate in professional-development activities provided by the Ministry of Education.
There are more than 800,000 public elementary-school students in Ontario.
The ETFO has been negotiating with the province for eight months over its next contract.