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Ontario high school teachers announce 'information pickets' and withdrawal of services

Teachers represented by the Ontario Secondary School Teachers’ Federation (OSSTF) will start a province-wide job action next week, the union announced today.

Job action will begin next week, union president says

Ontario Secondary School Teachers’ Federation president Harvey Bischof announced job actions Thursday that will start next week. (Jonathan Hayward/The Canadian Press)

Teachers represented by the Ontario Secondary School Teachers' Federation (OSSTF) will start a province-wide job action next week, the union announced today.

That action will include "information pickets" and withdrawal of some administrative services, president Harvey Bischof announced Thursday.

As long as the job action is ongoing, teachers will not perform EQAO preparation or testing, go to unpaid staff meetings outside the school day, or provide comments on high school report cards, he said. 

Union members will also not submit Ministry of Education data reports or participate in "professional activities" that are based on ministry or school board initiatives, Bischof said.

He could not say how long job action would last.

"I can't give you a timeline," Bischof said. "We are responsive to whether or not bargaining is progressing."

The news came just hours after Education Minister Stephen Lecce announced that the province is backing off on a plan that would make high school students enroll in four online courses to be able to graduate.

Lecce said students will now only need to take two e-learning courses, starting with students who will graduate in 2023-24.

"By listening to those we serve, by underscoring a commitment to be reasonable at the negotiating table, we believe this is the right way forward to embrace the best of technology, and give young people the skills they will need," Lecce said. 

OSSTF president Harvey Bischof says Education Minister Stephen Lecce doesn't understand how collective bargaining works. (CBC)

The Ontario Student Trustees' Association said it was pleased to hear of the changes to the e-learning plan, but still wants it to be fully scrapped.

"Students who have difficulty accessing technology, with varied learning styles, and those who have trouble learning without one-on-one interaction, are amongst those who will continue to be impacted by this mandate," president Sally Meseret wrote in a statement.

Lecce said individual exemptions will be allowed.

Mandatory online courses and increases to class sizes have been issues as negotiations between the province and the union roll on. The province originally said it would increase the average high school class size to 28 from 22, but has recently said it is willing to drop from 28 to 25.

Lecce said this shows the government has been listening at the bargaining table.

"I think what I'm trying to demonstrate to families is I'm trying to do everything I can to keep the parties at the table, to de-escalate the situation and really to demonstrate a reasonableness, a thoughtfulness and student-centric focus on keeping these kids in class," he said.

Bischof didn't buy that argument. He said Lecce is interrupting the bargaining process to make an offer through the media and is "way out of his depth."

"Why doesn't he use the process?" he asked.

Lecce says the province is being 'reasonable at the bargaining table.' (Christopher Katsarov/The Canadian Press)

Ontario's high school teachers are poised to walk off the job if contract negotiations with with the province remain stalled.

OSSTF released the results of a provincewide strike vote on Monday afternoon. Teachers and occasional teachers backed a strike action by 95.5 per cent, while 92 per cent of education workers also supported the possible walkout.

The union, which represents about 60,000 teachers and education workers across Ontario, is in a legal strike position, but must give notice of five days before members begin any job action.

With files from The Canadian Press

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