Update: With a week left before school begins, teachers’ unions mum on contract talks
Students go back to school Sept. 3. Boards and school staff are in the planning home stretch. Provincial flip-flopping on policies such as class size averages and the sex and physical education curriculum threatens chaos. Yet there hasn’t been a peep from Peel’s teacher’s unions.
Now in the midst of collective bargaining with the province, the Ontario Secondary School Teachers’ Federation and the Elementary Teachers’ Federation of Ontario have not been responding to The Pointer’s inquiries on how the negotiations are going. The unions have been mostly silent throughout the process.
Communications have come over the summer in the form of occasional news releases and bulletins from union executives. “We entered into bargaining, in good faith, at the earliest opportunity provided by the government’s regulations, and we have been making every effort to move negotiations forward,” said a June 5 statement by OSSTF president Harvey Bischof. “As we’ve seen with so many other scenarios, the Ford government loves to talk about consultation but, in the end, completely ignores the voices of real people.”
Teachers protested the Ford government cuts to education in front of Queen's Park in the spring
The ETFO has not released any details about the negotiations, but it has posted its goals. Those include altering class size caps, better special education supports, salary increases, improving hiring practices for occasional teachers, improvements to workload and workplace conditions, and better health and safety protections.
Bischof’s statement touches on a oft-repeated Ford government narrative, that its decisions were based on public consultations, including increasing high school average class sizes from 22 to 28 and scrapping the sexual education curriculum introduced in 2015. However, after several months of backlash, the province reversed those decisions … after much consultation with the public, according to the government.
Last week, Bischof called the class size reversal “smoke and mirrors,” of which “the end result will still be ballooning class sizes, fewer supports for students, and a significant reduction in available courses and programs.”
He called repealing the updated sex-ed curriculum a “political stunt” Ford used to “attract social conservative support.”
There was hope that contract negotiations would be more amicable after Stephen Lecce was appointed Minister of Education in late June, as part of a major cabinet shuffle by Premier Ford. One of Peel's teachers' unions told The Pointer the new minister immediately opened up lines of communications, after former minister Lisa Thompson reportedly failed to create any meaningful dialogue with unions, as contract talks seemed destined to stall. But little news has emerged about how the negotiations have proceeded.
An issue that could throw a wrench into repairing the damage to high school course offerings for the upcoming school year is whether teachers declared “surplus to board” as a result of the increases are still available to work. Some teachers relegated to the supply-teacher list for this fall may have opted to find work in other boards. All elementary teachers issued layoff notices earlier this year have received full-time contracts, Peel District School Board spokesperson Carla Pereira told The Pointer.
Premier Doug Ford and new Education Minister Stephen Lecce
For secondary schools, “118 teachers were provided full-time contracts, about 50 were offered full-year long-term occasional teaching positions, 10 were offered semester 1 long-term occasional teaching positions and under 5 made the choice not to take long-term occasional positions and will be applying to do supply work—short-term occasional teaching opportunities.” Doing the math, that means 10 of the 193 who were given layoff notices will not be returning to work at Peel schools.
Pereira explains: “Less than a handful have resigned, but this would happen every year as people move to other cities, etc.”
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