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Union leaders are accusing Toronto's public school board of escalating the tension in Ontario schools by allowing principals to withhold progress report cards.

Ontario's elementary teachers union has directed its members to fill out only the bare minimum, leaving just a check mark and a single sentence in the comments section, in order to show their frustration with the provincial government and its decision to legislate the terms of the contract.

As fall progress reports began going home late last month, the Toronto District School Board instructed principals to withhold report cards they felt were incomplete or did not fully reflect student achievement, and to instruct parents to come in for a meeting with the teacher instead.

Martin Long, the president of the union local representing Toronto's elementary teachers, released a statement Tuesday criticizing those instructions.

"The TDSB took these steps knowing that this would needlessly escalate tensions between teachers, principals, and parents, and that most other school boards in Ontario have not responded in a similar fashion," he said.

Shari Schwartz-Maltz, a spokeswoman for the TDSB, said the decision was made to protect student interests and that 81 per cent of report cards ended up being sent home.

"Teachers clearly care about the kids and communicating their progress," she said.

Elementary teachers have been cutting back on voluntary services, including coaching, clubs and after-school parent-teacher meetings, since September. They are expected to follow their colleagues at the secondary level. Elementary teachers at the York Region District School Board could become the first to reach a legal strike position on Nov. 19.