High school teachers were back on strike in Haliburton March 5 with unions unconvinced by the province’s announced concessions.

Ontario Secondary School Teachers’ Federation (OSSTF) members and supportive public protested outside Haliburton Highlands Secondary School (HHSS).

The planned one-day strike came after Minister of Education Stephen Lecce announced March 3 he is halting plans to further raise average class sizes and mandate online courses for graduation, two major sticking points in labour negotiations. Lecce added he wanted union concessions around wages and merit-based hiring.

But unions expressed concern about Lecce presenting the offer to media first, instead of at the bargaining table.

“Nothing is on paper. So, we actually have no idea what this announcement even means,” HHSS bargaining chair Jason Morissette said. “How much faith do you have in a sound byte?”

In a March 5 press release, Lecce called for unions to stop striking, citing his offer as well as commitments to full-day kindergarten and investment in special education.

“The time for a deal is now. I urge the unions to stop this disruptive escalation and return to the table to get a deal that is fair for parents, students, and educators,” Lecce said. The province is offering to keep average high school class sizes at 23, less than the planned 28, though more than the 22 average of 2018-19. The increase was limited to 22.5 this year, contributing to 24 teaching positions getting cut in Trillium Lakelands District School Board (TLDSB). The Grade 4 to 8 average was also pushed from 23 to 24 this year and though Lecce indicated no further increase was coming, the change is not up for a reversal.

The province had proposed secondary students take four online courses to graduate, later reduced to two after union and public backlash. Lecce said he is now offering a parental opt-out.

Morissette said OSSTF was not aware of concessions in advance and there are no written details.

“There might be some positive there that he is thinking about,” he said. “There are no guarantees.”

In a March 3 press release, the Elementary Teachers’ Federation of Ontario (ETFO) said it remains concerned about reduced special education funding despite assurances from Lecce. ETFO announced March 9 it will resume strikes March 23 if a deal is not reached.

The OSSTF announced March 6 it would put a pause on rotating strikes until at least March 27. Instead, the union is escalating a withdrawal of administrative services starting March 9, which it said would have “minimal impact on the learning environment.”

Morissette said the minister’s announcement is confusing, but he advises the public to stay informed.

“It’s complex, but it’s also incredibly important because we are talking about the future of your public education system,” he said.

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