Local secondary and elementary faculty joined a historic provincewide strike Feb. 21 as unions and the provincial government remain at an impasse in collective negotiations.

All four provincial teachers’ unions joined in the protest, the first time this has happened since 1997. The event is the latest in a series of strikes as the province has been unable to come to collective agreements with those unions, who say they are pushing back against cuts.

The Ontario Secondary School Teachers Federation (OSSTF) has also spoken out against the province’s proposal to mandate some online high school credits. Haliburton Highlands Secondary School (HHSS) bargaining chair Jason Morissette said it is unfortunate the situation has escalated this far.

“We truly are out here today because the cuts they are proposing for schools, particularly, I believe, rural high schools, will be disastrous,” Morissette said. “We believe the government is definitely on the wrong track.”

The OSSTF has announced local schools will be part of another one-day strike March 5.

Minister of Education Stephen Lecce continues to criticize union action and said they are seeking wage increases. Unions have said they want a cost of living adjustment, pegged at inflation, which would be above the one per cent raise cap for public sector workers legislated by the province last year.

“While union leaders are continuing to organize further disruption, our government remains focused on getting deals that ensure students are learning each and every day,” Lecce said in a press release.

But Morissette said teachers would not be giving up days of pay by going on strike if they were solely interested in money. “This is about working conditions and it is about students, so we are standing up for that,” he said.

The Elementary Teachers Federation of Ontario (ETFO) members also demonstrated. The union announced its next phase of job action over the next two weeks, beginning Feb. 26. It will not include strikes but will see ETFO members not fill in for absences or use personal funds to pay for school supplies.

“Using their own money to ensure their students have what they need to learn is just another example of the lengths our members will go to support Ontario’s public education system,” ETFO president Sam Hammond said in a press release.

Meanwhile, high schools are still managing the Trillium Lakelands District School Board’s mandate for secondary school teachers to not leave for extracurriculars during the day. This is due to board concerns about being able to staff classes, as the OSSTF has decided its members will no longer cover for absent colleagues.

Although sports teams have managed to play games due to fortuitous scheduling and help from non-teaching staff coaches, they have been unable to attend all.

HHSS principal Chris Boulay reported at the school council meeting Feb. 11 the status of spring sports is uncertain due to the ongoing labour issues.

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