Strikes likely won't jeopardize school year, says former Ontario deputy education minister

Public elementary students in Windsor-Essex are out of school Wednesday, and for the rest of this week, in large part because of teachers' strikes.

Many will not return to school until Feb. 18 because of strikes, a PA day and Family Day

Grade 8 student Sarbungh Singh will be missing four days of classes this week. He says he's sleeping in, working on school assignments, while also watching television and taking care of his dog Rusty. Singh says the unplanned break brought on by teachers' strikes this week has given him more time to work on his school projects. 2:05

Public elementary students in Windsor-Essex were out of school Wednesday, and for the rest of this week, in large part because due to ongoing teachers' strikes.

In addition to rotating province-wide strikes, Ontario's four major teachers' unions announced on Wednesday a joint strike day set for Feb. 21 that will include approximately 200,000 students. 

Among the Greater Essex County District School Board pupils caught in the region's teachers' strikes is Grade 8 student Sarbungh Singh, who says he's trying to keep busy at home in Tecumseh.

"I'm happy the teachers are fighting for us," he said. "I'm a little far behind, so it's good for me, but it's bad for everybody else. Hopefully, the strike ends before the end of the year."

Singh said he's spending his days taking care of his dog Rusty, as well as working on school assignments. 

Grade 8 student Sarbungh Singh said he's been staying up on his school project and taking care of his dog, Rusty, while missing school because of the ongoing teachers' strikes. (Stacey Janzer/CBC)

His family has a trip to Boston planned, so he knows he'll be missing more days than some of his fellow students — that's why he's catching up now. 

"I am working, finishing all my projects. I am taking care of my dog more than usual. I can sleep in. I can do a lot more stuff, but I would mainly want to finish my projects," he said. 

The next day of class for Singh and other elementary students is not until next Tuesday, because of the strikes, a PA Day on Friday and Family Day on Monday.

Strikes likely won't jeopardize school year

Over the course of the teachers' strikes and associated job actions, some political leaders, including Education Minister Stephen Lecce have taken to criticizing the unions for disrupting student education. 

"Parents are losing patience with the disruption in their lives, the inconsistency in their children's education, and the financial impact of scrambling for child care," Lecce said, in a Feb. 12 Ontario government media release. 

Still, with little end in sight in the dispute between teachers and the province, Charles Pascal — a professor at the University of Toronto's Ontario Institute for Studies in Education, as well as former deputy education minister who served in the 1990s — says students and parents shouldn't be concerned that the school year will be jeopardized or pushed into the summer. He also describes himself as a non-partisan, evidence-based professor and "recovering bureaucrat."

He said anyone implying that the current academic year is at risk is "basically trying to fan the flame of fear."

Listen to Charles Pascal talk about ongoing teachers' strike with Afternoon Drive host Chris dela Torre:

Ontario's education minister says students are being "hurt by the withdrawal of services and loss of classroom time" caused by the ongoing labour dispute between the government and teachers. Is the school year at risk? We asked Charles Pascal, professor at the Ontario Institute for Studies in Education at the University of Toronto — and a former deputy minister of education. 12:00

"We have not witnessed full-blown, province-wide strikes," Pascal told Afternoon Drive host Chris dela Torre. "And if and when we see these full strikes by the four federations, and they're sustained over a period of two or three weeks, if that happens down the road and it happens later in the school year … then that adds serious pressure to resolve things one way or another." 

Pascal said the last time teachers' unions engaged in a full-blown strike was almost 22 years ago.

"The difference between then and now … is I have never witnessed more disrespectful language regarding how [Education Minister Stephen Lecce] describes incorrectly the motives of the teachers' leaders," he said. "I've never seen a minister who's more disrespectful to both the process and to those who lead the teachers."

Parents host letter-writing campaign amid ongoing strikes

Meanwhile in Windsor, Helena MacKenzie hosted a strike party and letter writing campaign at her home.

"We're all getting together and writing letters to the minister of education to help stop him from making a mistake," she said. 

"I think that there will probably be a spreadsheet somewhere that will tick off how many letters have been sent and that's about it."

Helena MacKenzie held a strike day letter-writing party at her home Wednesday. (Tahmina Aziz/CBC)

The lawyer and stay-at-home mom said it was her first party, and had invited fellow parents from her daughter's school. 

"We also picket, so we'll have to choose a good day when my daughter and I are not picketing, because she really likes a good picket."

One of the kids at the Mackenzie home was eight-year-old Aboodie Ali Al-Haddad who was upset he couldn't go to school Wednesday.

"Don't make a lot of mistakes because we want to go to school and learn and things," he wrote in his letter to the government. 

Aboodie Ali Al-Haddad, 8, wrote a letter to the provincial government on Wednesday. (Tahmina Aziz/CBC)

For his part, Pascal pointed to initiatives like the letter-writing campaign as an example of the kinds of steps parents can take to ensure students continue learning even while outside the classroom.

"The kids that are out of the classroom because of these rotating strikes, they're actually getting a wonderful lesson in civics," he said. 

"That's a really good civics lesson regarding the nature of what you do when it's time to fight for something that creates a better tomorrow for the many, rather than for the elite few."

With files from Tahmina Aziz and Kaitie Fraser


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