The Trillium Lakelands District School Board (TLDSB) is preparing to close all of its schools Jan. 21 in the wake of union strike action.
The Elementary Teachers’ Federation of Ontario (ETFO) announced Jan. 16 the board would be part of a one-day strike unless a deal with the province can be reached. The Ontario Secondary School Teachers’ Federation (OSSTF) also announced it would withdraw services in TLDSB that day as part of its series of rotating strikes unless a deal happens.
This is the first time elementary teachers are striking this year, amidst stalled talks with the province. TLDSB ETFO teacher representative Karen Bratina said provincial negotiators have not met with teachers frequently and are not making progress in talks.
“They’re not handling it at all. This government is trying to make our world-class, publicly-funded public education system cheaper,” Bratina said. “They want to continue to further cut public elementary education.”
Unions across the province have expressed concerns about provincial plans to decrease class funding, increasing average class sizes from 22 to 25 at the high school level and 22 to 23 at the Grade 4 to 8 level. Other issues include compensation levels, mandating online learning in high schools and addressing violence in elementary.
Minister of Education Stephen Lecce criticized the escalation of job action. In response to ETFO strikes, he announced the province would provide parents direct funding to pay for childcare for students impacted by strikes.
“Our aim has always been to reach a negotiated settlement that keeps kids in class, which we have done successfully with multiple labour partners to date,” said Lecce in a Jan.15 press release. “We recognize the impact of union escalation on families is real, and unions expect hard-working families to bear the costs of their cyclical labour action.”
Details about the funding are available at Ontario.ca/SupportForParents or by calling 888-444-3770.
Besides rotating strikes, schools are experiencing the impacts of other job actions. Unions withdrew from EQAO preparation last November, resulting in January’s TLDSB Grade 9 EQAO math testing being pushed back. OSSTF also announced additional sanctions to start Jan. 20, including teachers no longer providing on-calls. They also specified Jan. 21 would be the last strike day until after the secondary school exam period.
ETFO began other service withdrawals Jan. 13, including no longer supervising after-school extra-curricular activities, no longer participating in assemblies except for supervision and no longer participating in field trips.
Bratina said she has met with TLDSB students and they are supportive. She said teachers are determined to continue fighting against cuts, but wanted to assure parents kids are still being taught.
“The teachers in Trillium Lakelands continue to teach the required curriculum to students,” Bratina said. “We, as educators, are going to fight to make it better because we know that the issues that matter to us matter to parents.”