Durham high school teachers begin strike today

The 24,000 teenagers who attend public high schools in Durham Region won't be in classes today, as Durham District School Board secondary teachers hit the picket lines.
Full-time and occasional teachers with the Ontario Secondary School Teachers' Federation walked off the job on Monday, closing high schools across Durham Region. (Shannon Martin/CBC)

The 24,000 teenagers who attend public high schools in Durham Region won't be in classes today, as Durham District School Board (DDSB) secondary teachers hit the picket lines.

The Ontario Secondary School Teachers' Federation (OSSTF) gave notice Saturday that its full-time and occasional secondary teachers will be on strike as of Monday, which means the board's secondary schools are closed as a result.

All classes, buses and extracurricular activities are cancelled.

Durham parents are advised to follow strike updates from the school board and the union.

Michael Barrett, the chair of the Durham District School Board, told CBC News that talks between the board and the local union "broke down" over the weekend.

Barrett said that for now, the goal will be to get talks started back up with the teachers' union.

"We'll continue to work forward looking for compromise and hoping to be able to get both parties back to the table," he said in a telephone interview on Sunday.

"Without dialogue, we're not going to be able to solve this and make sure we keep focused on our students."

Dave Barrowclough, the local union president, said Sunday that the teachers want to be back negotiating, but that can only happen when the other side is willing to negotiate.

"What we need is a bargaining partner. If we had that, we would be quite happy to come back to the table and sit down and bargain this through," he said in a telephone interview.

More disruption

Paul Elliott, head of the OSSTF, says changes the province made last year to the bargaining rules is having an impact on talks elsewhere in the province. 

"I can't get into specifics at Durham but I will tell you there's a significant amount of frustration along the same lines," Elliott said. "The boards come after things and when we put things on the table there's no discussion — it's just 'no, no, no.'"

"Negotiation is a give-and-take process. Negotiations are about discussion and you have to have those discussions in order to move things forward." 

School boards in Peel, Halton and Ottawa will be in a position to strike in the coming weeks.

Sandals calls for talks 

Education Minister Liz Sandals released a statement calling for the DDSB and the union to resume talks.

"I understand that parents and students in Durham face significant disruption as the result of a teachers' strike and I encourage both sides to return to the bargaining table," Sandals said in the statement.

"The best way to avoid strikes and disruption is to reach an agreement. We are committed to staying at the central table to do that and encourage all local parties to reach negotiated local agreements."

Garfield Dunlop, the PC's education critic, also called Sunday for the two sides to resume talks, but ultimately blamed the provincial government for the pending strike.

"The Ontario PC Party is disappointed that the Liberal government has given Durham teachers no other option than to strike in an effort to get the government to take negotiations seriously," he said in a statement.

"Twelve years of Liberal mismanagement has forced the government into a situation where they are unable to negotiate fairly with the teachers. And because of that, the people who are being harmed are the students and their parents."

With reports from the CBC's Trevor Dunn, Matt Llewellyn and The Canadian Press

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