Local teachers showed solidarity with colleagues across the province as they began work-to-rule action in their schools Nov. 26 with a one-day strike looming Dec. 4.

Both Elementary Teachers Federation of Ontario (ETFO) and Ontario Secondary School Teachers Federation (OSSTF) members demonstrated in front of County of Haliburton schools before class. Their unions are at standstills in negotiations for new collective agreements with the province and have decided to stop certain administrative tasks.

Local OSSTF District 15 president Colin Matthew said the province is using their power to limit salary and impose increased class sizes. The OSSTF has said it is seeking an inflation-based compensation increase.

“We’re disappointed to be at this point,” he said. “These cuts are negatively affecting our students through bigger classes, less individual attention, fewer course options and more combined classes.”

The OSSTF also announced it would commence a one-day strike on Dec. 4 if a deal is not reached, citing poor negotiations in the days following the work-to-rule.

This week we began a job action carefully devised to have no impact on students,” OSSTF president Harvey Bischof said in a statement. “It is clear from these last two days of bargaining, however, that our action is having no impact on the tone or substance of negotiations.”

The province has moved to reduce its education funding, raising class size averages. Initially, the province planned to go from an average of 22 to 28 students per class in high schools, but that figure decreased to 25 students amidst negotiations. Still, the cut resulted in Trillium Lakelands District School Board (TLDSB) laying off support staff, not rehiring for 22 high school teaching positions and offering about 100 fewer courses.

TLDSB ETFO teacher president Karen Bratina said their work-to-rule will not impact students.

“Our current strike action is directed at the government and school boards and will not in any way affect students, their learning or their safety,” Bratina said. “There are real issues that need to be addressed.”

She added their union is trying to address things such as violence and more support for special needs and high-risk students.

Both unions work-to-rule includes ending participation in EQAO testing, limiting or removing comments on report cards, not participating in board or ministry professional activities and not attending staff meetings, among other tasks.

Education minister Stephen Lecce said in a statement the actions are regrettable. He said the government “has remained a consistent and reasonable force at the negotiating table.”

“There is a path to a deal, and it requires all parties to be reasonable and fair and put the needs of our children first,” Lecce said

In response to OSSTF’s strike declaration, Lecce said the government has made “reasonable offers,” citing the reductions to class size increases and mandatory online courses.

“Strikes hurt kids. Our government has been clear, we want deals that keep students in class,” Lecce said. “For teacher unions to leave the table, to turn their back on our children, and to escalate to the point of compromising their education, is deeply troubling for parents and our government.”

In a press release, TLDSB confirmed its secondary schools and adult and alternate education centres will close Dec. 4 if the strike goes ahead.

“We hope that a provincial agreement with both ETFO and OSSTF can be reached very soon,” TLDSB said.

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