MUSKOKA - Parents and students at Muskoka’s elementary schools should be prepared for a one-day strike some time before the Christmas holidays.
It is important for parents to watch for the information as buses, which also transport secondary students and students in the Simcoe Muskoka Catholic District School Board, will not be cancelled
“This board will undoubtedly be on a single-day strike between now and the Christmas holidays, barring any changes,” confirmed Steve Colliver, Trillium Lakelands Elementary Teachers Local president.
One-day strikes are expected to rotate between school boards across the province, but the idea is not to surprise anyone, Colliver added. The Elementary Teachers’ Federation of Ontario has said parents will get a three-days’ heads up, prior to teachers walking off the job, to allow time to make child-care arrangements for the day, if necessary.
“It’s unfortunate that it is inconvenient,” he said. “But if the minister isn’t listening, I’m not sure what else we could do.”
In the event of a strike in Trillium Lakelands, Colliver has said notice will go out in the form of a press release and the board would be contacted directly.
“They’re going to be giving us 72 hours they’ve stated,” said Karen Round, trustee chair for the Trillium Lakelands District School Board. “As soon as we’re advised that information will be going out (to parents).”
A representative from the school board said when and if a one-day strike is announced, a letter will be sent home with students from all elementary schools, there will be information on the board’s website (tldsb.on.ca) and the board will use social media sites (Facebook and Twitter) to update parents. It is important for parents to watch for the information as buses, which also transport secondary students and students in the Simcoe Muskoka Catholic District School Board, will not be cancelled.
In addition to the rotating strikes, the elementary teachers have moved their strike action to stage 2 as of Monday, Dec. 3. Teachers, occasional teachers and designated early childhood educators are in classrooms teaching students during the instructional day, but they are withdrawing from all other activities, explained Colliver. Those other activities include most meetings, administrative activities, parent-teacher interviews outside of the instructional day, field trips, excursions, teams and clubs.
A spokesperson from Trillium Lakelands board confirmed that sports teams, clubs, field trips, and food and milk sales where teachers collect money have been cancelled at many Muskoka schools. Christmas concerts at some schools have also been cancelled, while others are holding concerts during the day on a sign-up basis. Winter electives are also on hold pending a resolution with teachers.
“From a parent standpoint, the children are in school, they’re receiving instruction and it’s a safe environment for them to be in,” said Round. “If it means that there has to be a pause with regards to extracurriculars, it’s unfortunate. It does enhance the school experience, there’s no two ways about it, but it is the icing on the cake.”
The strike action is a bid by elementary teachers to get Minister of Education Laurel Broten’s attention, said Colliver. Broten has refused to meet with the elementary teachers’ federation to discuss Bill 115, he said.
“We don’t take these actions lightly,” said Colliver. “It’s not a cavalier attitude on our part at all ... we care very deeply about our students and what we do. The minister has backed us into a corner.”
He went on to say it’s not the wage freeze, but the loss of collective bargaining that is at issue.
“My members are disappointed, they’re frustrated, they’re angry,” he explained. “If the minister were genuinely interested in solving the problem, I’m sure she would be like everybody else, let’s talk, let’s figure a way out of this.”
Currently there are no meetings planned between elementary teachers and the board or the province; though, Colliver doesn’t blame the school board for the impasse.
“I don’t want to paint the board in a bad light,” he said. “They’re stuck too. They’re told you can’t bargain beyond these parameters.”
“We are working diligently to the best of our ability on both sides with what we have, and I articulate ‘with what we have’ because obviously the legislation is the issue. And for us, that’s the law and we cannot negotiate outside of the law,” explained Round. “It’s very hard on both sides, but they (teachers) have a legal right to do what they’re doing and we respect that and we know that they respect their position in the building with the kids.”
However, Colliver does believe there is more the board could do. Some Ontario school boards, including Rainbow District School Board in Sudbury and Bluewater District School Board in Bruce and Grey counties, have sent letters to the province denouncing Bill 115 and asking for it to be repealed, said Colliver.
“Our board hasn’t done that,” he said. “Honestly and truthfully, that would be something that our board could do that would actually say to their teachers, ‘Hey, you know what? This is unjust and it’s not right.’”
“To the best of my knowledge there’s only been one board that has done that,” said Round. “We support our employees emphatically 100 per cent and that motion has not been presented to us.” She added she would not be bringing the motion forward; however, she could not speak for the other nine trustees.
A Bill 115 protest has been planned by the Trillium Lakelands local in front of MPP Norm Miller’s office on Manitoba Street in Bracebridge today between 4 and 5 p.m. Norm Miller, along with other Conservative MPs, voted with the Liberals to pass Bill 115. Over 100 people, from elementary and secondary teachers’ unions, as well as the Canadian Union of Public Employees are expected to attend the protest.