Schools are bracing for possible closures and cancelling community permits as support staff across the province threaten a strike which could begin Oct. 7.

The Canadian Union of Public Employees (CUPE) announced a strike would begin if no deal was reached with the province by then. This has prompted Trillium Lakelands District School Board (TLDSB) to cancel all permits for community use of its schools after Oct. 4.

Local CUPE 997 president William Campbell said his members are fully supportive of the action. They voted overwhelmingly to support the strike mandate Sept. 7, with 98.8 per cent of custodial maintenance and 97.4 per cent clerical, technical and educational assistants (EAs) in favour.

“With the concessions that the Ford government is proposing, and the school boards are supporting, our members can’t continue under those,” Campbell said. “The Ford government cuts are going to make it very difficult to attract good quality people to those positions going forward.”

He further said EAs are subject to a lot of physical attacks from children and are not compensated well enough.

Provincial funding cuts and declining enrolment prompted TLDSB in June to lay off the full-time equivalent of 54 support staff positions, including four EA’s in Haliburton County.

TLDSB said in a release Oct. 3 it is assessing the potential impact of a strike on school operations. The board indicated closures are a possibility and urged families to prepare.

The health and safety of our students is our priority. We want our school communities to be aware that this strike action by CUPE may result in school closures,” the release said. “Families are strongly encouraged to begin making alternate childcare arrangements prior to this potential strike beginning on Monday, October 7.”

In a press conference Oct. 2, Minister of Education Stephen Lecce said the province is open and available to work towards a deal.

“Historically, a lot of these circumstances have pled out to create that pressured environment and I understand that,” Lecce said. “I don’t think we have, we collectively, have done all our due diligence to get a deal through that table.”

The strike notice escalates CUPE’s current work-to-rule, which began Sept. 30. That limited what duties could be carried out by support staff, such as custodians not cleaning hallways and offices.

Campbell said CUPE is willing to continue negotiations and he hopes the strike action brings both sides back to the table.

“Nobody wants to go on strike,” Campbell said. “I think this is the time to do it because I don’t think we have a choice.

“We’re all hoping for a fair collective agreement and if we get that, I think this whole situation can be avoided.”

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