Striking Teachers Defiant as Government Tries to Win Parents

For the first time since early December, teachers of the Upper Grand School Board and the Wellington Catholic District School Board took part in a one-day strike organized by the Ontario Secondary School Teacher’s Federation (OSSTF). But as teachers marched, the Minister of Education appealed to parents by announcing that if the strikes continue, the Government of Ontario will pick up the tab for childcare.

“We recognize the impact of union escalation on families is real, and unions expect hard-working families to bear the costs of their cyclical labour action,” said Minister of Education Stephen Lecce in a statement this morning.

“While unions impose hardship on families and students, our government is taking proactive steps to ensure students remain cared for — and families supported — in the event that unions decide to further escalate job action in their fight for enhanced compensation and other demands,” Lecce added.

The “Support for Parents” initiative will offer $60 per day for children aged 0 to 6 who attend daycare at a school-based centre, $40 per day for children in junior or senior kindergarten, $25 per day for students from grade 1 to grade 7, and $40 per day for special needs kids from JK to grade 12. Parents can apply for funds retroactively to when the labour strife began in November 2019.

“Our government will continue to support parents and provide predictability during this period of union-caused uncertainty,” added Jill Dunlop, Associate Minister of Children and Women’s Issues. “We will always put families and children first.”

“I just wonder if the Minister could put the time and energy into the negotiating table,” said Paul Rawlinson, the teacher bargaining unit president and the district president for OSSTF District 18, which represents many of Guelph’s eduction workers in the UGDSB.

“We could be at a negotiated deal now, instead of playing games and spending millions of dollars with schemes like this,” he added, while taking a break from picketing along College Avenue West with teachers from Centennial CVI and College Heights Wednesday afternoon.

Rawlinson said that the Minister’s plan is not that different from the political response of Conservative governments of the past, and that these strategies end up costing more money than planned and never roll out as intended. Guelph’s Member of Provincial Parliament agrees and said that the Minister’s focus should be on working with teachers.

“The Minister’s priority should be to reach a fair deal with education workers at the negotiating table rather than driving a wedge between parents and teachers,” said Mike Schreiner is a statement.

“This cash-back program provides some financial relief to families, but it is a distraction from the heart of this dispute, the reckless cuts to education,” Schreiner added. “What’s most important to parents is the quality of their kids’ education, and I think they will see through this ploy to pit them against teachers.”

On College Avenue Wednesday it seemed like there was still a lot of support for teachers.

“The morning shift went every, very well, and there’s lots of participation as you can see,” said Anna Wilson, a teacher at Centennial. As the afternoon shift started, a line of over 100 teacher and other school workers was spread out from Vanier to the Hanlon marching with flags and banners.

“There’s not as much traffic as there was before, but we’re getting lots of great honks, lots of support, and let’s hope they [the government] gets the message,” Wilson added.

Whether not the government is getting the message is what Rawlinson called a “crystal ball question.”

“It really would be nice to see the government acknowledge the devastation that will be caused by these funding cuts, and that the quality of education will go down, as well as our graduation rates,” Rawlinson explained.

“We’re gonna have a lot of kids leaving our secondary panel that didn’t connect with that one special person that would have got them through, got them their graduation diploma, and put them on a path for success,” he added. “Frankly, that should be frightening to the public and to parents and grandparents as they try to advise their kids on how to get through the system successfully.”

Scott Harris, who’s the vice-president of the OSSTF teachers organized at College Heights, is especially concerned for the students at his school, many of whom have special needs and could be lost in the crunch of bigger classrooms.

“We have a lot of high needs students in our school and without the support workers here those kids are going to fall through the cracks, and it’s going to be really impactful,” Harris said.

“It’s hard enough one-on-one to get people to learn and work hard, and if you take away the actual teacher and just have a computer screen, I don’t understand how that’s going to help people learn,” Harris added. “It’s going to drastically impact the quality of the kids’ education and how much support we’re able to give them. [A teacher] is only one person, and we can’t be there holding hands for every student even though some of them need that.”

The mandatory e-learning component of the Ford government’s changes to education has become even more controversial since Monday when the Toronto Star published details of a confidential document that the Ministry of Eduction developed sometime last year.

The six-page document, which was marked “not for distribution,” detailed a vision for online learning courses that would be optional until 2024 when school board budgets would be drastically cut as more “teaching” would be done independently on computers. The plan also involves developing “gold standard” courses that the Province could then sell to other jurisdictions for a profit.

Lecce refused to comment for the story, but the government did not deny the validity of the document, or its contents.

Back on the picket line, the teachers continue to refute the government’s other talking point that the teachers are just fighting for wages. Harris said that its the kids and quality education they’re fighting for, and to do  that they’re actually losing pay.

“If the government’s message is that we’re only concerned about our pay, then why are we out here on strike?” Harris said. “We’re losing money every day we’re doing this. It’s not the point.”

As to where the job action and the negotiations go from here, Rawlinson isn’t sure.

“We just hope the the Minister and the government will join us and understanding that education is an investment,” he said. “The Conference Board of Canada released a report last spring, and they determined that every dollar removed from education funding in the province equates to $1 30 of less economic activity.”

“I can’t predict an end to it because we can’t get our minds around the logic that we’re seeing on the other side of the table,” Rawlinson said.

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