Sudbury

COVID-19 cools down labour dispute in Ontario schools

Teachers are working with the province to move all classes online in the coming weeks. Just a month ago they were at each other's throats in a bitter labour dispute.

OSSTF returns to bargaining table for first time since December, other 3 unions have tentative deals

Teacher unions held dozens of one-day strikes through the winter, but three out of the four have now reached tentative agreements with the province after the COVID-19 shutdown. (Erik White/CBC )

This past winter, the rotating strikes by Ontario teachers were the big news story in the province. 

The Ford government and the education unions were in a bitter dispute about pay hikes, class size increases and moving more classes online.

And parents were said to be scrambling because kids were missing one or two days of school.

This is one of the many things that has changed with the global COVID-19 pandemic. 

Now, the province and the unions are working together to move all learning online and three of the four big unions have reached tentative agreements with the government. 

"We get it that it's a global pandemic and there's no doubt that we're working within that," says Glen Hodgson, president of the Ontario Secondary School Teachers' Federation in the North Bay area. 

"But our priorities in terms of protecting public education and protecting our students and protecting our learning environments, those those things haven't changed."

His union returns to the bargaining table on April 2 for the first contract talks with the province since December. The other three will hold ratification votes in the coming days.

In the tentative agreements with the English Catholic and French unions, the province has agreed to drop its plan for mandatory online classes in high schools.

Chantal Rancourt is the Sudbury elementary president for the Ontario English Catholic Teachers' Association. (Erik White/CBC )

Hodgson says he isn't worried that parents and students will get used to e-learning during the pandemic and isn't telling his members to make sure it doesn't work out. 

"Never. We would never suggest that. What we tell our members and what our members are telling us is they're going to do whatever they can to make whatever learning environment they're presented with work for their students. This is not about trying to score political points," he says.

"I think it's showing the exact opposite— how incredibly difficult it would be to offer e-learning in any sort of thoughtful, complete and equitable way."

His union also represents elementary and secondary support staff, many who work one-on-one with students, and he says so far it's unclear how they would fit into an online learning program.

Chantal Rancourt, union president for English Catholic elementary teachers in the Sudbury area, says there are also lots of questions about how it will work for the younger grades.

"We have elementary teachers who are wondering how do I teach my (kindergarten) students. How do I reach my Grade 1s? my Grade 2s? They can't just be there on their own, they need parent involvement," she says.

"Nobody seems to have any answers in terms of how it's actually going to work."
 

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Erik White

journalist

Erik White is a CBC journalist based in Sudbury. He covers a wide range of stories about northern Ontario. Connect with him on Twitter @erikjwhite. Send story ideas to erik.white@cbc.ca

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