Elementary school teachers left with ‘no choice’ after government negotiations fail
Following a week of failed negotiations between the provincial government and Ontario’s elementary teachers’ union, both students and teachers were literally left in the cold on Monday.
Despite the cold snap this weekend, elementary school teachers across the GTA walked out of their classrooms on Monday to protest recent education changes made by the PC government.
The Elementary Teachers’ Federation of Ontario (ETFO) has been on work-to-rule up until this point but commenced the rotating strikes since talks stalled last week. The Ontario Secondary School Federation (OSSTF), the Ontario English Catholic Teachers’ Association (OECTA) and the Association des enseignantes et des enseignantes franco-ontariens (AEFO) are set to hold these rotating strikes and walkouts throughout the course of this week.
“A strike is the only means for educators to force the government to get serious about negotiations and the future of public education,” stated ETFO president Sam Hammond.
ETFO is the largest of the province’s four unions, representing over 83,000 teachers and educational workers. School boards in Toronto, York region and Ottawa were notified five days in advance for the scheduled walkout.
Wendy Nixon, a kindergarten teacher at Church Street Junior Public School, is also a member of ETFO and led the school’s walkout on Monday.
“Because no progress has been made in negotiations, we’re really at a standstill with these issues,” said Nixon, who has taught at the TDSB for over 15 years.
Flanked by a group of other teachers, Nixon marched the picket line beyond school grounds to canvass a portion of the Village. With a drum under one arm, she beat a rhythm for the group’s chants as spectators watched and cars honked in support.
“It does send a clear message to the government of Ontario and Doug Ford that we really want a fair deal for our students,” said Nixon.
Among the protesting teachers were handfuls of parents and children who showed up to support their educators.
Yet some parents cannot afford to take time off or pay a babysitter in the case of school closures
To offset the burden that today’s strike could have on parents with full-time employment, Education Minister Stephen Lecce announced a plan to offset the cost of child care for affected students.
With up to $60 available for each child, Nixon said she realizes the hardships that come with school closures. However, she recognizes that some parents are taking the money and donating it back to their schools in solidarity.
To help with the situation, the cities of Brampton and Markham are holding day camps during school closures. While the city of Toronto won’t host any comparable camps, there will be other venues hosting programs for affected children during school hours, like the Royal Ontario Museum and the Ontario Science Centre.
For Nixon, this means more money in the pocket of parents, noting the government’s strategy of regifting of taxpayer dollars.
She says that to truly improve public education, the government needs to invest in the system instead of cutting $150 million from the current budget.
“We’re really hoping that the government will return to the bargaining table and at least schedule some meetings so that we can talk about these issues.”