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The board will strive to keep schools open and some programs running if teachers go on strike, an official said, but if support staff walk off the job, buildings will be closed.

Peter Power/The Globe and Mail

Hope appeared Thursday for Ontarians worried about an elementary-school strike, but they won't learn more until nearly the first day of school.

The Elementary Teachers' Federation of Ontario is heading back to the bargaining table on Sept. 1 for the first time since early May, with more talks scheduled for Sept. 4, the Friday before the Labour Day weekend.

Nothing has shifted in the two sides' bargaining proposals, but the impending school year led to a "meeting of minds," said Michael Barrett, who has been negotiating with ETFO as president of the Ontario Public School Boards' Association.

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"I think at the end of the day that all three parties have certainly always expressed [that] we're all there for the kids, but ... we can't say that if we're not sitting at a table talking," Mr. Barrett said. "I just think that as we move closer to the beginning of the school year, we all recognize that there's a necessity to be able to open those discussions."

Ontario's four teachers' unions have been bargaining simultaneously under new legislation, and ETFO has taken the toughest stance over the summer, even as other teachers' unions sought mediation and set dates for late August.

In July, Mr. Barrett said the union had set a demanding prerequisite to return to the table: It wanted all 13 opening proposals by the province and school boards' association to be removed before it would resume talks. The union ended up agreeing to meet in September with that condition unmet.

"I don't think that anything has changed to this point in the sense of positions," Mr. Barrett said. "We're almost starting from the beginning again, so there's still a lot of road to travel."

Public high-school students and Catholic school students also have reason to hope. The Ontario Secondary School Teachers' Federation is scheduled to bargain Aug. 18 and 19, and the Ontario English Catholic Teachers' Association is in talks this week.

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