Toronto

Public high school teachers to hold 1-day province-wide strike on Dec. 4

Teachers and education workers represented by the Ontario Secondary School Teachers' Federation (OSSTF/FEESO) will will stage a one-day, province-wide walkout on Wednesday, Dec. 4.

Education minister calls decision ‘troubling,’ urges union to remain at bargaining table

OSSTF president Harvey Bischof announced Thursday that teachers and education workers represented by the Ontario Secondary School Teachers' Federation will will stage a one-day, province-wide walkout on Wednesday, Dec. 4. (CBC)

Teachers and education workers represented by the Ontario Secondary School Teachers' Federation (OSSTF/FEESO) will stage a one-day, province-wide walkout on Wednesday, Dec. 4.

OSSTF president Harvey Bischof announced Thursday that the strike will go ahead if a new agreement is not reached before then.

The one-day strike will follow six days of information pickets and a limited withdrawal of administrative services that began Tuesday.

"We came to the table this week with some hope. After two days, regrettably, the parties remain far apart," Bischof said during a news conference at the Sheraton Centre Toronto Hotel.

"This week we began a job action carefully devised to have no impact on students. It's clear from these past two days of bargaining, however, that our action is having no impact on the tone or substance of negotiations."

'We have been driven to this action'

Bischof said the government is still trying to impose mandatory e-learning, larger class sizes and other measures that would degrade the quality of education in the province, even after months of largely fruitless bargaining with union officials.

"The erosion of education is happening now. We can't wait any longer for this to continue. We have been driven to this action."

Bischof said the strike will see all the province's public high school teachers withdraw full service for the day before resuming classes on Thursday, Dec. 5.

Negotiations between the province and the education unions started on tense terms a few months ago. (Jonathan Hayward/The Canadian Press)

Education minister urges continued talks

Education Minister Stephen Lecce described the union's action as "troubling." 

"For teacher unions to leave the table, to turn their backs on our children and to escalate to the point of compromising their education, is troubling for parents and for our government," Lecce said.

"Our government has demonstrated consistently it is reasonable and student-centric by making major moves that have not been matched or reciprocated by the teachers' unions."

Lecce said parties that are truly committed to the success of children will consider every tool available to avoid strikes, which he said hurt kids. He called on the OSSTF to remain at the bargaining table with third-party independent mediation "up until the deadline."

"Our aim, as was the case with CUPE, is to get a deal, which provides continuity for parents and educational stability for our students."

Ontario Minister of Education Stephen Lecce on Thursday called on the OSSTF to remain at the bargaining table with third-party independent mediation. (Christopher Katsarov/The Canadian Press)

Public high school teachers started an administrative work-to-rule campaign on Tuesday that included not putting comments on report cards, not participating in standardized testing and not attending certain meetings.

Ontario's four major teachers' unions have all expressed frustration with what they say has been a lack of progress at the bargaining table with the province.

Elementary teachers also started an administrative work-to-rule campaign this week.

The Catholic teachers' union has talks scheduled Friday involving a conciliator, and French teachers will hold strike votes next month.

Keep kids in the classroom: Premier

Responding to the announcement, Ontario Premier Doug Ford said his government's goal is to keep kids in the classroom and make sure they have a safe environment in which to go to school.

"We're doing everything we can to strike a deal, and I think we've shown good faith and all the confidence in the world, and Minister Lecce, I think he's doing an incredible job," Ford told reporters on Thursday.

High school teachers say their main issues at the table include larger class sizes and new mandatory online learning classes. The government has partially walked back both contentious proposals, but Bischof has said that will just leave the education system "somewhat worse" instead of "much worse."

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

School boards react

The Toronto District School Board said that, should the walkout take place, it would have no other option but to close all secondary schools to students, including adult day schools and secondary night school, as there would not be sufficient supervision to ensure safety. 

"All classes and any out-of-school activities would be cancelled. As a result, parents/guardians should make alternate arrangements for their children if required," the TDSB said in a statement.

Meanwhile, the Peel District School Board said it will review the job action outlined by OSSTF and its potential impacts, and provide an update as soon as possible.

With files from The Canadian Press

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