Members of the Ontario Secondary School Teachers’ Federation (OSSTF) across the province took part in a one-day strike to protest an impasse at negotiations with the Government of Ontario. Here in Guelph, over 200 teachers from Guelph Collegiate Vocational Institute (GCVI) walked up and down Paisley Street with a simple message: they’re striking for the kids, not for a pay raise.
“We want to stop the cuts. The government keeps focusing on wages, and that’s not what this is about,” said Corrine MacGillivary, who was the spokesperson for the GCVI teachers on the picket line. MacGillivary is a teacher librarian and history teacher at the school.
“Some classes are maxed out, and it’s hard to get around to every student in terms of helping them, and it will only get worse next year if the cuts continue,” she added. “If the government wants to have no caps, then who knows how many students we will have in our classes, and that will make it even more difficult to help the kids that need extra help.”
The OSSTF announced the one-day strike last week to break the negotiating logjam between them and Minister of Education Stephen Lecce. In a statement released last night, Lecce said the union was focused only on “their insistence on a $1.5 billion increase in pay and benefits,” and not on what’s best for students.
“My message to parents, on the eve of potential job action, is that our Government has remained reasonable at the negotiating table, with the objective of keeping students in class,” Lecce said. “It has been over 200 days since we first started bargaining with OSSTF and in that time, they have not made any substantive moves since their first proposal was tabled.”
OSSTF President Harvey Bischof put the ball back in Lecce’s court saying that the minister has been secretive and misleading in these negotiations, while it’s the union that has been siding with parents and students on the issues.
“A report from Global News tells us that parents and others who participated in the consultation overwhelmingly oppose larger class sizes,” Bischof said in a statement on Sunday. “This is entirely in line with the results of our polling showing that 76 per cent of parents were concerned that increased class sizes would result in students not getting the individual attention they need from teachers.”
MacGillivary said that the OSSTF has been transparent through the entire negotiation, and that members of the public are hearing new information in real time with teachers.
“We’re out here for our students, we don’t want our students to have to be in a classroom that has 45 to 50 students in it,” MacGillivary said. “We want them to have a quality learning environment because they’re our future.”
Class-size though is just part of the frustration for teachers like MacGillivary who are trying to do more with less every day, and not just in the realm of teaching.
“We’re also worried about cuts to our social worker, who is really important for at-risk students, especially kids who are dealing with mental health issues,” MacGillivary explained. “We have students every day that need to see the social worker to deal with anxiety or other mental health issues.
“There’s also our youth worker, and his hours have been cut as well. He used to be at our school all the time, and now he’s split between two schools,” she added.
At GCVI, 260 teachers took part in the one-day strike across two shifts. All schools in the Upper Grand District School Board, elementary and secondary, were closed today, and while the struggle was real for parents, so is the need to protect educational funding.
At least that’s how Guelph’s Member of Provincial Parliament sees things.
“The government must reverse course on policies that threaten the quality of education by backtracking on raising class sizes and imposing mandatory e-learning,” said Mike Schreiner in a media statement today.
“This one-day strike is difficult for parents, who must find alternate arrangements for their kids, and for educators, who would rather be teaching than picketing, but teachers are the last line of defence against reckless cuts, and I respect their right to job action in order to defend Ontario’s world-class education system,” Schreiner added.