By Star Staff/Postmedia
Students in the Sudbury area’s English-language public high schools will have the day off Wednesday as teachers participate in a one-day strike.
Thousands of Ontario public high school teachers, including those in the Sudbury area, will be off the job Wednesday for a one-day strike after failing to reach a contract with the province.
It’s important to note the strike only affects English-language public school high schools in Ontario, including those in Sudbury.
The Ontario Secondary School Teachers’ Federation confirmed the job action, setting the stage for potentially hundreds of schools across the province to shut their doors for the day.
Harvey Bischof, president of the federation, said the Ford government did not put forward any constructive proposals through the negotiation process.
“After midnight we have not reached an agreement and so the strike is officially on,” he said.
“OSSTF education workers & teachers will be back in schools Thursday. We remain ready to negotiate.”
Earlier Tuesday, the Rainbow District School Board announced that if a strike occurred, its high schools would be cancelled.
“Secondary teachers and support staff represented by the Ontario Secondary School Teachers Federation will engage in a full withdrawal of services on Wednesday, in response to negotiations at the provincial level,” the board said in a release.
As a result, “all classes for Grades 9 to 12 will be cancelled for the day in Rainbow Schools in Sudbury, Espanola and Manitoulin Island,” the board said. “This includes Barrydowne College, the N’Swakamok Native Alternative School, the Attendance Centre and the Adult Day School.”
Greater Sudbury Police said picket sites include Chelmsford Valley District Composite School, Confederation Secondary School, Espanola High School, Lasalle Secondary School, Lively District Secondary School, Lockerby Composite School, Lo-Ellen Park Secondary School, Sudbury Secondary School, Manitoulin Secondary School, Ecole secondaire du Sacre-Coeur and Ecole Jean-Paul II.
“Picket lines will be set up at entry points,” according to the police service. “The picket lines will be in place from 7:30 a.m. until 3 p.m. Vehicles attending these locations may be delayed for a short period of time.”
The police service said it “respects everyone’s lawful right to peaceful assembly. This matter is a civil matter as it is a labour dispute. Please do not contact police regarding the delays unless there is an emergency.”
The Rainbow board said extra-curricular activities, field trips, school events and co-operative education placements for secondary students will also be cancelled, although dual credits will continue at Cambrian College.
At the elementary level, Kindergarten to Grade 8 classes will proceed as scheduled, as teachers represented by the Elementary Teachers Federation of Ontario are not participating in the one-day strike.
“This includes programs for Grade 7 and 8 students at Chelmsford Valley District Composite School, Confederation Secondary School, Lively District Secondary School and Lo-Ellen Park Secondary School,” the Rainbow Board said.
“School office staff, however, will be participating in the full withdrawal of services.”
Parents/guardians of students in kindergarten to Grade 8 are asked to notify their child’s school of any absences.
“This is very important for the safe arrival program,” the Rainbow board stressed. “Please call the school and ensure that you leave a message if your child will be away on that day.”
The board also said “controlled access” will remain in effect at elementary schools. “Parents/guardians visiting the school can expect delays in entering the building. Contact numbers will be posted on the main door for assistance.”
Daycares in Rainbow Schools will not be impacted by the job action, nor will community use of schools.
On Tuesday night, Education Minister Stephen Lecce asked the union to remain at the bargaining table, saying his bargaining team had presented a new “framework” to the union in a bid to keep all parties at the table.
The union announced last week that teachers could walk off the job to turn up the pressure during tense labour negotiations with the Progressive Conservative government.
The teachers are already conducting a work-to-rule campaign and say they are pushing back against government plans to increase class sizes and introduce mandatory e-learning courses.
“While we sympathize absolutely with students and parents facing disruption and anxiety, a single day strike doesn’t come close to the kind of disruption this government will wreak on the education system if they’re allowed to go forward with their destructive proposals,” Bischof said.
The strike will call political attention to the cuts that this government has already imposed and wants to impose further, he said.
“We have seen this government change direction when faced with political opposition and so that’s our intention,” Bischof said.
Ontario’s public high school teachers have been without a contract since August.
Lecce said the main issue in the talks is compensation, with the government recently passing legislation to cap annual wage increases for all public sector workers at one per cent for three years. The union is asking for inflationary increases, which would amount to about two per cent.
Bischof dismissed the claim that compensation is the main issue as “outrageous.”
The minister said the government remains ready to bargain, but did not provide any further details of the new framework apparently offered on Tuesday.
Lecce said the teachers’ union is choosing to escalate the talks and said governments of all political stripes have faced similar challenges over the past few decades.
But former Liberal premier Kathleen Wynne, who also once served as education minister, said the Progressive Conservatives made cuts to classrooms ahead of bargaining, hurting the government’s relationship with teachers.
“It’s been more than 20 years since there’s been a province-wide job action by OSSTF,” she said. “I think that speaks volumes. The last province-wide job action was under the (Progressive Conservative) Mike Harris government. The fact is, it’s not the same. This government declared war on teachers and support staff.”
NDP Leader Andrea Horwath said she knows the potential labour disruption will affect parents who are forced to find other child-care arrangements, but she thinks overall parents are more upset with the government.
Green party Leader Mike Schreiner also said he thinks parents agree with teachers taking the job action.
“If the government would reverse their cuts then we could have a good-faith negotiation around salaries,” Schreiner said. “The government is trying to use compensation as a way to deflect from the real cuts to education.”