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Ontario elementary, high school teachers start work-to-rule campaigns

Ontario's public elementary and high school teachers start work-to-rule campaigns on Tuesday, saying months of contract talks have produced little progress.

Parents can expect 'absolutely nothing' to change for students, unions say

Teacher Hayley Mezei and her colleagues stood outside Queen Victoria Public School in Toronto on Tuesday morning, on the first day of work-to-rule. (Meagan Fitzpatrick/CBC)

Ontario's public elementary and high school teachers are running work-to-rule campaigns starting Tuesday, saying months of contract talks have produced little progress.

Members of The Elementary Teachers' Federation of Ontario and the Ontario Secondary School Teachers' Federation are withdrawing some administrative services, such as putting comments on report cards, attending certain meetings and participating in standardized testing.

"Parents can expect to see absolutely nothing to change in terms of the quality of their children's learning environment," said OSSTF president Harvey Bischof.

High school teachers are holding information pickets to distribute information to parents, but will not impede access to schools, Bischof said.

Parents should know "we're on the side of their children," said Rachel Rosen, a teacher at Sole Alternative school in Toronto, at an information picket line Tuesday morning. 

"I'm very frustrated," she said. "If there is money to break contracts with the LCBO, if there is money to put stickers on gas stations, I think there's money for the future of our province."

Elementary teachers gathered outside the main entrances of schools 15 minutes before class, walking in together in what their union called a "solidarity action."

Teachers walking into Queen Victoria Public School on Tuesday, chanting 'cuts hurt kids.' (CBC)

Cuts are "already being felt," said Fraser Telford, a teacher at Queen Victoria Public School in Toronto.

Outside schools, some teachers talked about larger class sizes, not enough teachers, fewer course options, mandatory high school e-learning and support for things like special education.

"It's going to get worse for the kids in the future," said Telford, whose colleagues walked into school holding signs and chanting "cuts hurt kids."

"Ideally if we can stop it now, we'll be able to keep our education system strong."

Fraser Telford and Lyla Macaulay, teachers at Queen Victoria Public School, walked into school in solidarity on Tuesday. (Meagan Fitzpatrick/CBC)

OSSTF has talks scheduled with the province Wednesday and Thursday this week, and escalating the strike after that point is possible, Bischof said.

"We don't have infinite patience with this," he said. "The government unilaterally imposed cuts that students are already suffering from. That's not something we did. They did it. We want that to change."

Harvey Bischof, president of the Ontario Secondary School Teachers' Federation, says the province unilaterally imposed cuts that are hurting students already. 'That's not something we did. They did it. We want that to change." (CBC)

No report card comments will hurt students, minister says

Education Minister Stephen Lecce said the government has been reasonable in contract talks, scaling back increases to class sizes and mandatory e-learning requirements.

"As evidenced by the voluntarily negotiated agreement with CUPE, I know we can get there through working together in good faith, so that students remain in class," the Minister said in a statement released late Monday night. 

The government announced in the spring that it was increasing average high school class sizes from 22 to 28 over four years and requiring four online credits to graduate. In recent weeks, it has offered a class-size increase to 25 instead, and dropped the e-learning requirement to two courses.

Teachers were not appeased.

"They originally announced that it would be much worse at the end of four years, and now they're saying it's only going to be somewhat worse at the end of four years," Bischof said.

Teacher Rachel Rosen (centre) stands on an information picket outside Monarch Park Collegiate Tuesday morning. Information pickets will be held over the next week, teachers say, but students will not feel the impact of the job action. (CBC)

Lecce said if teachers don't participate in certain professional development activities and don't put comments on report cards, that will hurt students.

"They are the singular victim of that escalation, I really believe that," he said.

Hayley Mezei, a union steward and teacher at Queen Victoria Public School, said the job action won't affect students. Teachers will likely have more time for them since they won't have as much paperwork, Mezei said.

The work-to-rule is meant to apply pressure, so they can have "meaningful negotiations."

"I certainly don't want to go on strike," Mezei said, but ETFO members have voted 98 per cent in favour of strike action if needed.

Ontario Education Minister Stephen Lecce says the Doug Ford government has been reasonable in contract talks, scaling back increases to class sizes and mandatory e-learning requirements. (Chris Young/Canadian Press)

Work to rule means no school board activities on PA days

During the work to rule, high school teachers will:

  • Not complete ministry data reports.
  • Not participate in ministry- or school board-driven professional activities.

During the work to rule, elementary teachers will:

  • Not take part in any online training by the ministry.
  • Not take part in any school board activities on professional activity (PA) days.
  • Not respond to any emails from administrators outside of school hours, except if it is about safety, support for students with special needs, or for a supply teacher to accept a job.

Negotiations between the province and the education unions started on tense terms a few months ago, and three of the four major unions have moved toward labour action of some kind.

Catholic teachers have voted 97 per cent in favour of a strike if necessary, although they are not yet in a legal strike position, while negotiations between the province and French teachers continue.

Negotiations between the province and the education unions started on tense terms a few months ago, and three of the four major unions have moved toward labour action. (Jonathan Hayward/The Canadian Press)

with files from CBC News

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