Parents offer, but can't clean schools, coach teams during job actions

Hamilton's school board is sending management staff out to clean school hallways and cautioning parents about taking on staff roles as union job actions take a toll on school life.

HWDSB says it can't accept offers from parents to step in and fill staff roles

Students at Yorkview Elementary were locked out in the rain Wednesday morning. A parent said it was a casualty of work-to-rule action brought on by labour negotiation, but the district said the door situation was not directly connected to the job action. (Sean Ernst/Twitter)

The Hamilton-Wentworth District School Board is sending management staff out to clean school hallways and cautioning parents against taking on staff roles as a series of union job actions take their toll on school life.

At one school Dr. Davey Elementary School, a parent council member says hallways are full of litter, "cockroaches and other pests pose a serious threat to students," its gymnasium is unusable and critical fundraising activities that support needy students in the central city school aren't happening.

Across the province, labour disputes involving the Elementary Teachers' Federation of Ontario, the Ontario Clerical and Technical Unit representing support staff and custodians represented by CUPE with the province and school boards have resulted in a range of work-to-rule actions by the unions.

As negotiations continue, the unions have steadily reduced the number and kind of tasks its members will be doing on a day-to-day basis. 

Those actions have come at the expense of the students, said a member of Dr. Davey's parent council, Tanya Ritchie.

"It's in a really bad spot right now," said Ritchie, whose daughter attends the K-8 school near Beasley Park.

Wednesday marked "Phase Three" of the teachers' work-to-rule plan, which saw the elimination of interscholastic sports and other extracurriculars. Progress reports have also been delayed.

The board posted a notice to its website Tuesday thanking parents for offering to step in and coach teams and sweep hallways but said that can't happen.

 "We appreciate the offers of help we are receiving from some parents, but volunteers cannot do the duties of staff during a legal job action." 

Not just Dr. Davey

Dr. Davey isn't alone in Hamilton as schools throughout the district cope with the job actions.

Todd White, chair of the HWDSB, said that, outside the classrooms, the schools are not in the best shape at the moment.

White says the board is concerned about student health and safety, and has a centralized staff assigned each day to go out clean school gym and hallways.

Some kids who have asthma have been pulled from school because of the dust.- Tayna Ritchie, Dr. Davey parent council 

"But they're making their rounds quite slowly," he said.

"We have 93 elementary schools, they're making their rounds every day," White said. "You may see a school swept every week. It's slow."

For now, students and parents at schools such as Dr. Davey and Yorkview in Dundas are being asked to cope with the work-to-rule environment, said White. Fundraising will have to go on without the assistance of teachers and gym might have to take place outside – weather permitting.

Dr. Davey's Ritchie says the council understands this is part of negotiations, but would like a resolution.

"We're just waiting to see what happens," said Ritchie.

"Some kids who have asthma have been pulled from school because of the dust," Ritchie said.

A parent information session is scheduled for Nov. 4, and is going to take place in the school's gym.

"That's going to be fun," Ritchie said sarcastically.

Many of the families whose children attend Dr. Davey are not well-off, so many students depend on the snack program, which is financed through fundraising, said Ritchie. But fundraising has stopped because teachers are not allowed to "volunteer their time for even minor tasks," she said.

'My son's pants are filthy'

On Wednesday morning, parents and their children at Yorkview, a K-5 school, were locked out in the rain prior to classes starting, because, one parent said, the regular staff who let the students in were unavailable.

Sean Ernst, 45, was one of the fathers waiting for his kindergartner to be let inside that morning. The person who let them in?

Not anyone in the empty clerical office beside the door, said Ernst, but a first-grader whose class was nearby and heard their knocks.

The school board responded to Ernst's tweet and said the door situation was not directly connected to the job action. 

Like Dr. Davey, Ernst says Yorkview is in rough shape, as evidenced by his child's clothing at the end of the school day.

"The principal has admitted the school is filthy. My son's pants are filthy. His socks are blackened and dirty. The washrooms are disgusting. The union has lost any support that I would have had for them before."

​The Elementary Teacher's Federation of Ontario told CBC Hamilton they are currently in a media blackout and could not comment on ongoing negotiations.

If there were issues with asthma or hygiene as a result of the work-to-rule, White said his staff will be amenable to the situation. But as for the doors, he asks for parents' "patience for entry into our schools. You may notice a bit of a delay."

What's your experience with the work-to-rule action? Let us know in the comments below, or tweet us @CBCHamilton.


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