After months of negotiations, the Ontario Secondary School Teachers’ Federation (OSSTF) and the province have reached a tentative collective agreement.

The two sides announced the deal April 20 after a negotiation period which saw multiple one-day strikes. Teachers protested provincial cuts and expressed concern over changes such as mandatory e-learning credits for students.

But OSSTF District 15 – Trillium Lakelands president Colin Mathew said although he is not privy to what happens at the central-bargaining table, the COVID-19 pandemic likely had an impact.

“The whole bargaining landscape, at least in the short-term, really changed with this current crisis,” Matthew said. “It’s hard to imagine it didn’t have an effect.”

The deal will be reviewed for approval by local leaders in the coming days. If approved by them, the OSSTF said it will have a ratification vote by all its members in May.

OSSTF president Harvey Bischof thanked his members for their work in their public awareness campaigning.

“As a result of our combined efforts, this government, although early in its term and holding a majority, was pushed back from some of its most egregious proposals,” Bischof said. “While this tentative agreement does not satisfy all of our concerns, we recognize the current environment we are in and the need for students to have stability once this emergency is over.”

“Our aim was to ensure our young people receive the best education we can offer, so they can develop the skills they need to succeed in the classroom and in the jobs of the future,” Minister of Education Stephen Lecce said. “We will remain focused on the government’s dual priority of keeping students safe while ensuring the continuity of education.”

The province has now reached deals with all of its teachers’ unions, including the Elementary Teachers’ Federation of Ontario, which is going through its own ratification process. A local deal still needs to be worked out between the union and Trillium Lakelands District School Board.

Matthew said negotiations have awaited completion of the central deal. If that deal is ratified as scheduled, Matthew said local bargaining should take place in May and June.

What will be discussed will depend on what is covered in the central agreement. Matthew added he is concerned about possible cuts based on deals made with other teachers’ unions. The Toronto Star reported the tentative deal with the Ontario English Catholic Teachers’ Association includes an increase in average high school class sizes from 22 to 23 students this fall.

“We know what we went out to fight for, which is no cuts to public education. I would hope when I see the terms of the deal, that will be the case,” Matthew said.

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