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A woman sits on the picket line in front of Lorne Park Secondary School Ontario as the Secondary Schools Teachers Federation (OSSTF) are on strike after talks broke down with the Peel District School Board

Mark Blinch/The Globe and Mail

Thousands more high school students are out of classes after teachers at Ontario's second-largest school board walked out on Monday, the third union local in as many weeks to hit the picket line in an unprecedented work stoppage across the province.

High school teachers for at least four more boards could walk out in the coming weeks. And on Sunday, Ontario's public elementary teachers will be in a legal position to strike. In addition, parents are keeping hundreds of children at home to protest against the new sex-education curriculum.

Michael Barrett, president of the Ontario Public School Boards' Association and chair of the Durham District School Board, on Monday said the provincial education system is in "turmoil."

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A strike by high school teachers at Peel District School Board forced 42,000 students out of classes on Monday. Two weeks ago, Durham high school teachers went out, followed by teachers in Rainbow District last week. There are now 72,000 students not in classes, and 4,500 teachers on strike.

A senior government official said the province hopes a settlement will be reached soon, and that there is a "path to get it all sorted out in the next few days." But that would require a return to negotiations.

The other parties give no indication that is to happen soon, nor does it appear that the province is considering legislating teachers back to work.

Education Minister Liz Sandals is not yet concerned Grade 12 students will lose their year because of the strikes. She said the three affected boards have sent interim grades to colleges and universities so admissions will not be affected.

"At this point, the usual process is unfolding with no negative impact on the students in those three boards," she said.

Peel board chair Janet McDougald said in an interview that her students will graduate. "I'm not the minister, but I think we can reassure parents that the board, but, more importantly, the ministry, is very aware of the uniqueness or the extraordinary situation we have ourselves in," she said.

Ms. McDougald says the minister is in weekly contact with the three affected boards and the four boards, Ottawa, Waterloo, Halton district and Thunder Bay, where the Ontario Secondary School Teachers' Federation (OSSTF) might call strikes.

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She said Ms. Sandals told her she has explained to colleges and universities that "our students and those students who have been on strike require special attention and special understanding …"

It is not clear how the province will help students. Ms. McDougald said the province will have to reduce the 110 hours required for a credit in Grades 9 to 12.

"Even today, it puts us behind," she said of the strike's effect on students at her board.

This is the first time the province, school boards and teachers' unions have negotiated under legislation passed last year that divides the process into parallel talks. Issues such as day-to-day working conditions are negotiated between the teachers' local bargaining units and the school boards. The other issues, such as wages and class size, are negotiated with the province.

The stalled negotiations and the pattern of a strike every week is revealing weaknesses in the legislation.

Paul Elliott, head of the OSSTF, said the process is "frustrating" because the local tables do not feel they have the authority to reach a deal.

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"… We're finding school boards are basically throwing their hands in the air and saying, 'We can't do anything until the central deal is done,' " he said.

OPSBA's Mr. Barrett said the process is not working and recommended that the local boards not be able to strike until a provincial agreement is reached.

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