Rainbow District School Board director of education Norm Blaseg said he understands teachers aren't happy about recent events, but he's inviting them to return to supervising extracurricular activities anyway.
There's been speculation that teachers belonging to the Ontario Secondary School Teachers Federation (OSSTF) and the Elementary Teachers Federation of Ontario (ETFO) will continue their boycott of extracurriculars.
The unions are debating their next move at meetings in Toronto this week. This is in the wake of Education Minister Laurel Broten's recent decision to impose a two-year contract on many of the province's education workers.
But Blaseg said the boycott is ultimately a personal choice made by individual teachers.
“How they deal with it will be a personal choice,” he said. “For some, they will get back to the coaching, and some, they will not. But for those who do come back, we embrace them, and we do really appreciate what they're doing.”
Blaseg said that so far, the extracurricular boycott hasn't actually had a huge impact on the number of sports activities the board has been able to provide. “We're offering over 90 per cent of the activities we offered last year,” he said.
In the fall of 2011, the Rainbow board had 54 teams at the secondary level, while in the fall of 2012, it had 50. Last winter, the board had 76 teams, while this year it will have 68.
This reduction isn't all due to the teachers' boycott either, he said. In some cases, it might just be due to there not being enough kids to field a team for a certain activity, Blaseg said.
And while the board was able to provide detailed statistics for its sports teams, the same could not be said for other extracurricular activities. Spokesperson Nicole Charette said no information had been gathered regarding how other activities, such as music and drama clubs, are being affected.
When asked about the implications of the possibility of a sustained boycott of extracurricular activities, perhaps even for the entire length of the two-year contract, he said the board would have to rely more on community volunteers.
“We've always had a tremendous community volunteer list,” Blaseg said. “If need be, it may cause us to access that list more often.”
He said he hasn't received any phone calls or emails from parents of Grade 8 students considering sending their children to other school boards because of the possibility of ongoing labour strife, and neither have other principals to whom he's spoken.
In terms of other actions teachers took last month, such as refusing certain forms of supervision, he said that's all ended now that they're under a contract once again.
As for what he thinks about Broten's actions, he said he doesn't believe anyone affected by the situation is happy — the government, teachers, school boards or parents.
“Boards are not thrilled by this whole series of events,” Blaseg said.
“This has not been very productive. At the end of the day, we would have been much happier if we'd been able to sit down with our federations and dealt one on one and reached agreements. I think we'd be in a better place today.”
The government seems to have put itself in a situation where it set a hard deadline — Dec. 31 — for agreements to be negotiated at a local level and it couldn't back down, Blaseg said.
“They decided they had no choice but to pull the pin,” he said.
Negotiations were very difficult at the local level because the government's interaction with unions had “poisoned” the atmosphere, Blaseg said. Now the board is in the situation of trying to mend fences with the unions.
“How do you get beyond that?” Blaseg asked. “That's the real challenge.”
Are you the parent or guardian of a Rainbow board student affected by a boycott of extracurricular activities? Northern Life wants to hear from you. Contact us by email at firstname.lastname@example.org or by phone at 705-673-5667 ext. 338.