TORONTO—The Elementary Teachers’ Federation of Ontario (ETFO) began work to rule job actions on Monday, May 11 following a failure to reach a new contract with the provincial negotiators. Although teachers will remain in the classroom, for now, the ETFO has not ruled out further job actions. The job action impacts all elementary schools within the Rainbow District School Board, including those on Manitoulin Island. The strike does not impact the federal schools located on reserve.
Under the work to rule parameters, elementary school teachers, who have been without a contract since last August, will no longer participate in province-wide evaluation testing (EQAO), participate in board communication (essentially distributing notes for students to take home to their parents), add comments other than marks to report cards and won’t participate in any meetings or professional development related to Ministry of Education initiatives.
On the bright side, the strike will have little direct impact on students and parents, for now, as extracurricular activities and field trips will continue as planned. The union makes clear that the current actions are aimed squarely at the province and the Ministry of Education and designed to have a minimal impact on students and their families.
The ETFO has refused to say whether there will be further job actions taken should the negotiations continue to drag on.
Rainbow District School Board Director of Education Norm Blaseg noted that, unlike the current strike by secondary school teachers at the board, the RDSB does not have a direct hand in the negotiations with the teachers’ union. The secondary school teachers have a two tier negotiation system that is being test run in the current round of negotiations.
“The elementary school teachers’ job action is based on a provincial writ,” said Mr. Blaseg. “Because it is the whole province we were handed a five-day notice that the union was in a job action situation.”
“One thing the public has to know is that in the case of these negotiations, provincial and central are kind of synonymous,” he said. “This is a very provincial set of negotiations.” Asked if this means the contract talks are out of the RDSB’s hands, Mr. Blaseg replied “absolutely. We do not have people at that table.”
Mr. Blaseg cautioned that the end of the school year remains “a long way off.”
In the meantime, parents can, as they could at any time, check the RDSB website to find posted notices that would also normally be sent home with students. “The notices posted there are a carbon copy of what would be sent home with the parents,” he said.
Until a next phase of job action takes place, the real impact of the job actions will hit the province rather than the board, with the province-wide data collection on student accomplishments being restricted by the refusal of teachers to participate.
ETFO President Sam Hammond has said the current action would continue until the government and the Ontario Public School Boards Association’s (OBSBA) demands are withdrawn from the bargaining table.
Mr. Hammond identified teacher preparation time, supervision, ability to exercise professional judgment and fair and equitable hiring practices as some of the key areas in which he claimed OPSBA and the government are making demands.
Education Minister Liz Sandals said last week that she was disappointed with the ETFO decision, but was “encouraged” that students will remain in the classrooms.
“We are frustrated by ETFO’s failure to bargain since starting the clock ticking on job action,” said OPSBA President Michael Barrett in a release from the school board association which is conducting negotiations at the central table. “It does a disservice to students, families and the cause of public education.”
“I encourage ETFO to return to the table at 9 am Monday, May 11,” said Mr. Barrett. “We have been at the table, ready to talk, throughout this process and it is where we will be on Monday morning.”
“We are not going to comment on strike action details publicly until we’ve had an opportunity to communicate with all our members this week,” said Mr. Hammond. “What’s important to realize is that the government and OPSBA want to layer on more bureaucracy into the education system, and compromise the ability of teachers to do what’s best for our students.”
The ETFO claims that OPSBA and the government have tabled numerous demands, including: removing class size language from collective agreements, which would give school boards latitude to increase the number of students in elementary classrooms; directing how teachers should spend their preparation time, which would interfere with teachers’ ability to plan lessons, prepare specialized plans for students, and engage with parents; curtailing teachers’ ability to use their professional judgment in determining how to support student learning; and rescinding the fair and transparent hiring practices that school boards are now required to follow under Regulation 274.
“OPSBA wants the ability to determine how teachers teach,” added Mr. Hammond. “The person in the education system who knows your child best, your child’s teacher, would no longer be able to develop an instructional plan based on your child’s specific abilities and needs. That doesn’t make any sense when it comes to what’s best for students.”