Outaouais schools close as rotating teacher, staff strikes hit region

Classes are cancelled and childcare has been called off this morning in schools across the Outaouais as part of rotating strikes involving teachers and support staff across Quebec.

Classes, childcare cancelled Monday and Wednesday at some schools

Teachers from Philemon Wright High School and Hadley Junior High School picket during a one-day strike Monday, Oct. 26. Teachers and other public sector workers in Quebec are in the midst of contract talks with the province. (Andrew Foote/CBC)

Classes are cancelled and childcare has been called off this morning in schools across the Outaouais as part of rotating strikes involving teachers and support staff across Quebec.

French-language schools that belong to the Commission scolaire des Portages-de-l'Outaouais (CSPO) and Commission scolaire des Draveurs will be closed today, when support staff walk the picket line, and Wednesday when teachers take their turn.

Meanwhile, about 8,000 students in the English-language West Québec School Board will also have the day off as teachers strike Monday.

The board's support staff will be taking to the picket lines on Nov. 4, meaning no classes again.

The unions have agreed not to cross each other's picket lines, which is why classes and childcare are set to be cancelled both days.

Quebec's teachers have been without a contract since April. Teachers' unions are coordinating strike dates from now until mid-December as contract negotiations with the provincial government continue to stall.

Rafi Khan, chairperson of the Western Quebec Teachers' Association, says there's been some progress in contract talks with the province this month. (CBC)

Points of contention include an increase to the teacher-student ratio in the province's classrooms and lowering support services for students with special needs.

"In the last decade we've made gains on class sizes, particularly at the elementary level, where we were able to reduce class sizes by one or two [students]," said Rafi Khan, chairperson of the Western Quebec Teachers' Association.

"Unfortunately the government has looked back at that and says class sizes have not made an impact in actual success rates and we beg to differ. They're actually looking at taking away the gains we've made over the last decade in class sizes at the elementary level."

"Some of those increases include students with special needs … the outside help that we do get, they're wanting to cut that back too. Not only are they increasing sizes but they're cutting back on the support students would get," said Debbie Macdonald, a Grade 9 teacher at Philemon Wright High School in Gatineau.

"I'm going to continue to do my job the best I can but in the end, the people that suffer are the students. They're not getting what they need. You can see an increase in dropouts, anger, frustration; it can really build up."

Support from parents

Macdonald said she's feeling the highest level of support from parents in her 28-year teaching career, but some parents told CBC News Monday they're upset they have to make other plans to take care of their children.

"I find that the children are paying and the parents are paying and while I would like to give my support to the teachers it's really a challenge for the parents to deal with these rotating strikes," said Genevieve Casa, a parent of two boys going to one of the French schools in the Outaouais, in an interview with Ottawa Morning host Robyn Bresnahan on Monday.

The province's two largest labour federations representing employees in the public health and education sectors also voted overwhelmingly in favour of a strike mandate earlier this month.

If there's no progress in ongoing talks, that could mean a three-day general strike Dec. 1, 2 and 3.

Issues affecting around 400,000 public sector workers in Quebec, including teachers and support staff, include a wage freeze and cuts to pension plans.

Other places affected by job action Monday include the three campuses of the Cégep de l'Outaouais and the Centres de santé et de service sociaux of Gatineau, the Gatineau Valley, Papineau and Collines.