Union allows Hamilton teachers to attend anti-bullying PA day despite job action

The union representing public elementary school teachers in Hamilton asked for and received a special exemption from job action so staff can attend a PA day dedicated to addressing bullying.

Public school board planning PA day focused on addressing bullying for Nov. 29

The union representing elementary teachers with the Hamilton-Wentworth District School Board says staff will be able to attend a Nov. 29 PA Day focused on bullying despite job action. (Jeff Pachoud/AFP/Getty Images)

Hamilton public elementary teachers have been granted a special exemption from their union's job action so they can attend a PA day dedicated to addressing bullying.

The Elementary Teachers' Federation of Ontario (ETFO) is set to begin a work-to-rule job action later this month as the contract standoff with the Ministry of Education continues.

That job action directs teachers not to participate in a range of administrative tasks and professional learning sessions, including any school board activities on PA days.

Technically that would include the Nov. 29 development day where the Hamilton-Wentworth District School Board is focusing on anti-bullying, following the stabbing death of 14-year-old Devan Selvey by another student.

'A growing issue of violence' in schools

Jeff Sorensen, president of the Hamilton-Wentworth Local for the ETFO, said as soon as the local found out about the focus of the PA day, union leadership went to the provincial union leaders to get an exemption so teachers could attend.

"We felt it was important given that teachers show, in Hamilton-Wentworth, that though we're in a work to rule position we take our responsibilities very carefully," he explained. "There is, from our perspective, a growing issue of violence in schools. That violence affects not only students, but staff."

Sorensen said teachers he represents are victims of violence on a daily basis.

Ensuring the security of students and staff is a top priority for the union, he added, "so if this PD day is designed … to keep staff and students safe we want to participate."

In the aftermath of Selvey's death, his family and others in the community demanded that more be done to combat bullying in schools. The board has launched a sweeping review of how it handles bullying.

In that review, a three-person panel is expected to work with students, caregivers and community partners before reporting back to the board and public by the end of May 2020.

But some have questioned what the HWDSB is doing to take on bullying in the meantime.

The board says that is where the PA day training comes in along with other new initiatives and supports the board is rolling out during Bullying Awareness and Prevention Week.

For teachers, the day will be focused on Relationships, Caring/Important Adults and Addressing Bullying."

The board also had to seek permission from the province to switch the focus of the PA day's activities from math to the bullying focus.

Teacher negotiations 

Three of the four major teachers' unions in Ontario are taking steps toward potential strikes as they negotiate with the government for new contracts. 

The Ontario Secondary School Teachers' Federation (OSSTF) released results of a province-wide strike vote Monday afternoon. Teachers and occasional teachers backed strike action by 95.5 per cent, while 92 per cent of education workers also supported the possible walkout.

But despite the results of the vote, the OSSTF has not announced any job action, meaning high school teachers in Hamilton would also be able to attend the PA day.

with files from CBC Toronto and the Canadian Press