Teachers union slams decision to counter strike day with online learning

A union representing English-school teachers says school boards and service centres are using the COVID-19 pandemic to their advantage by scheduling a full day of online learning on Wednesday. More than 70,000 teachers are set go on strike that day.

Teachers will strike from midnight to 9:30 a.m. on Wednesday

Elementary school students are required to physically attend school, yet many school boards have opted to schedule a full day of online learning on Wednesday. (Ryan Remiorz/The Canadian Press)

With more than 70,000 teachers planning to strike on Wednesday, many English school boards and French school service centres have decided to counter by scheduling a full day of online learning for elementary and high school students.

One union says it has "a huge problem" with that decision, accusing the boards of using the COVID-19 pandemic to their advantage. 

"The online learning is emergency online learning and it's there because of the pandemic. The negotiation has nothing to do with the pandemic," said Heidi Yetman, the president of the Quebec Provincial Association of Teachers. The union represents 8,000 teachers in the province.

The strike is planned for Wednesday between midnight and 9:30 a.m. Afterward, teachers will resume their regular duties. They are striking to express dissatisfaction with collective bargaining negotiations with the province that have gone on for more than a year.

Currently, only students in Grade 9, 10 and 11 are required to alternate between in-person and online classes in the province's red zones. Students in every other grade are required to physically go to school everyday.

Both the EMSB and LBSPB justified their decision by saying the strike presents logistical challenges for student transportation and daycare services.

"The strike will have major repercussions on bus schedules, daycare services, and logistics that could compromise the health and safety of our students," the EMSB wrote in a letter to parents.

That same argument was used in an attempt to seek an injunction and stop the strike action from taking place, but a Superior Court judge ruled against the school boards and service centres.

As far as Yetman is concerned, the boards' position makes no sense and she says rearranging schedules should not be difficult.

"Teachers are picketing and they're going to be at work at 9:31 in the morning and the students are safe, they're just arriving later. There are many service centres that have organized their transport. It has not been a problem," Yetman said.

Yetman also says she's worried their strategy could set a bad precedent and boards will find different reasons in the future to keep students at home on strike days.

Seven out of 10 English school boards will resort to online learning on Wednesday, including the English Montreal School Board, Lester B. Pearson School Board and Riverside School Board.

About 65,000 teachers with the Fédération des syndicats de l'enseignement are also striking. Seven French school service centres have also decided to have students learn from home.

With files from Kate McKenna