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Elementary school teachers will stage walkout on Jan. 11

by Kris Svela

FERGUS

All Upper Grand District School Board (UGDSB) elementary schools will likely be closed on Jan. 11 when teachers walk off the job in a day of protest.

School board chairman Mark Bailey said he expects schools will close because with over 1,150 teachers out on strike, schools will be understaffed and unable to provide a secure environment for students.

“That is a safe assumption,” Bailey said when asked whether schools will be closed.

Board spokesperson Maggie McFadzen later confirmed elementary schools would indeed be closed for one day and re-open on Jan. 14.

However on Jan. 10, McFadzen sent out a press release stating parents should watch their child’s elementary school website or the Upper Grand District School Board website - www.ugdsb.on.ca – for any changes to the planned elementary teachers’ day of political protest.

The Ontario Labour Relations Board planned to hear the Ontario government’s application to have the proposed teachers action declared an “illegal strike” beginning at 3pm on Jan. 10.  The Ministry of Education has communicated to all school boards that it is hopeful that a decision will be reached quickly. 

Bailey said he was originally concerned about the short notice given to the board by its Elementary Teachers’ Federation of Ontario (ETFO) District 18 union.

Boards were given 72-hours notice prior to teachers walking off the job just prior to Christmas.

“We realize this is a huge inconvenience for parents,” Bailey said. “We’re quite concerned the action they are taking is directly affecting our students.”

District 18 ETFO president Doug Cook said the decision to walk out came on Wednesday, after local union leaders met with provincial union officials in Toronto. Up until that time no strike action had been worked out.

However, late last year teachers voted 92 per cent on favour of strike action should the provincial government impose contracts.

Education minister Laurel Broten announced the imposition of contracts on Ontario teachers, under provisions of Bill 115, at a press conference on Jan. 3.

The controversial bill, known as the Putting Students First Act, is facing a legal challenge from teacher unions, which contend it is unconstitutional. The act prohibits teachers from striking for two years, halts all potential pay increases and slashes sick days teachers can bank. It also rolled back annual sick days allowed by teachers from 20 to 10.

Broten also acknowledged that once the new contracts are ratified by Jan. 14, she will repeal the bill.

“We are going to picket,” Cook verified in a telephone call with the Advertiser immediately following the decision in Toronto.

“It’s no surprise because we’ve been saying all along should the government impose contracts we would strike.”

He likened the shorter notice time as similar to parents having to adjust to school closings during inclement winter weather, where notice time is much shorter.

“We’re pretty frustrated,” Cook said.

The union has contended contracts should be reached through negotiations at the local level and not imposed by the government.

“The way to a solution is through meaningful dialogue,” Cook added in an earlier interview. “It adds insult to injury now that Bill 115 has accomplished all it was intended to.”

Broten said she was repealing the bill in a bid to have teachers return to extracurricular activities which, in some schools, have been discontinued.

Cook said repealing the bill will not smooth the relationship between teachers and the provincial government.

“It would be naïve to think schools are going back to working normally,” Cook said in an interview prior to Wednesday’s announced action. “Extracurriculars are such an enriching experience for students and teachers, but there’s just so much at stake. We’ve lost our voice.”

“We may very well leave our classrooms for a day,” he said prior to Wednesday’s provincial strike call.

Cook doesn’t believe strike action would be illegal and points to a 10-day strike in 1997 when teachers protested Bill 160 brought in by the Mike Harris Conservative government. That bill, known as the Education Quality Improvement Act, limited some of the authority school boards and their teachers had in determining teachers’ preparation time and set classroom and teaching conditions.

Broten has come out saying strike action would be illegal.

Also in an earlier interview, Bailey said the impasse between teachers and the minister has left the UGDSB in the middle.

“Unfortunately the school board is a bystander in the tensions that exist between the teachers and Ministry of Education,” Bailey said. “That’s the reality this time around. The boards are caught in the middle.”

Bailey said the board is attempting to maintain normal school operations as the dispute drags on.

No action was announced by secondary school teachers about whether they will be walking off the job.

Paul Rawlinson, president of District 18 of the Ontario Secondary School Teachers’ Federation (OSSTF), which represents 800 UGDSB members, said in an earlier interview that strike action is also being contemplated by his members.

He could not be reached for comment after high school union representatives met in Toronto.

Extracurricular activities have been left up to individual teachers, Rawlinson said. However his provincial union is forbidding its members from taking part in such activities.

Rawlinson said there is little that can be done to satisfy teachers now that contracts have been imposed by the government.

“The damage is already done,” he said. “The cows are out of the barn.”

Vol 46 Issue 02

January 9, 2013

ReliableFord

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