The withdrawal of extracurriculars in elementary schools does not impact student engagement or achievement, according to the lawyer representing an elementary teacher's union.
"We categorically reject this," Howard Goldblatt told the Ontario Labour Relations Board on Wednesday. "It is a very serious allegation … to suggest somehow students' safety, student engagement and achievement have been impacted in either of these districts' schools."
Mr. Goldblatt was responding to arguments made by a lawyer for two school districts – Trillium Lakelands and Upper Canada – that the union was using voluntary activities as a political tool and compromising student safety and learning by withdrawing them.
The two school boards are arguing before the labour board that the Elementary Teachers' Federation of Ontario (ETFO) has issued directives to teachers that constitute an illegal strike.
"This is a crass violation of the law for political purposes," said Michael Hines, a lawyer for the school districts.
Teachers are no longer in a legal strike position after the government imposed contracts on them earlier this month.
Mr. Goldblatt argued that there is nothing prohibiting teachers from withdrawing these activities, even in a concerted effort, because its falls outside the definition of a strike in the Education Act. The withdrawal of teacher participation in sports, arts and cultural activities in schools was removed from the definition of strike in the Act in 2009, when new premier Kathleen Wynne was education minister, Mr. Goldblatt said.
The court case comes as both elementary and high-school teachers have withdrawn their participation in sports teams and clubs in protest of Bill 115, legislation which imposed the terms of their contracts.
Ms. Wynne has made resolving the dispute a top priority. She met with union leaders Tuesday evening, and more meetings are expected in the coming days.
Lawyers for ETFO have argued that because Bill 115 has been repealed, teachers don't have collective agreements in place and are in a legal strike position.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 will continue Thursday, and a decision is expected soon. Teachers and school boards across the province are watching the case closely, as it may have an impact on ongoing teacher protests.