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Strikes could close schools, board says

The director of education with the Rainbow District School Board said he's not sure what strikes planned by the Elementary Teachers' Federation of Ontario (ETFO) will look like yet, but it may mean closing schools for a day or more.

The director of education with the Rainbow District School Board said he's not sure what strikes planned by the Elementary Teachers' Federation of Ontario (ETFO) will look like yet, but it may mean closing schools for a day or more.

“If they're going to walk out for a day, we would probably, in all likelihood, close the schools,” Norm Blaseg said. “We would ask parents to make alternate arrangements.”

ETFO announced Nov. 28 its teachers plan to strike starting in December, although it has not given any indication as to what form the measure will take, nor has it given any specific dates for when strikes will start.

They've promised to give parents 72 hours notice before any strike, which will affect operations in each public elementary school throughout Ontario.

When contacted by Northern Life, Liana Holm, first vice-president of ETFO's Rainbow local, said she didn't have any comment on what form the strikes would take, as the union needs to inform its members first.

“We'll be able to talk to the media on Tuesday after we get to let our members know,” she said.

However, given that ETFO's Rainbow local isn't in a strike position until Dec. 10, there likely won't be any actions here until that time, Blaseg said.

He said he'd like to find out what the union means by 72 hours notice.

“Does that mean business days or is it 72 hours literally?” he said. “We'll have to find out from our local to see what it's going to be.”

ETFO president Sam Hammond said in a Nov. 28 press release it's “unfortunate” the union has been placed in the position of having to strike by Education Minister Laurel Broten.

“By her actions, the minister has let everyone down by stripping teachers and education professionals of their democratic rights, and shutting down talks at the provincial level.”

Broten said Nov. 29 ETFO members will be ordered back to work if they strike.

“It is too early to tell what strike actions will look like, what it will entail,” Broten said in the Toronto Star.

“My message to parents is if we find ourselves in that circumstance, and we hope we don't ... if we need to respond, we have the tools, and we will.”

Under Bill 115, which was passed in September, the province has the power to pass a cabinet order-in-council ordering teachers back to work or imposing contract deals on them.

Despite the pending job action, Blaseg said the Rainbow board is still negotiating with ETFO.

The same can't be said for the Ontario Secondary School Teachers' Federation (OSSTF), which the Rainbow board hasn't negotiated with for some time.

Even if they had been at the bargaining table, the union's provincial office suspended all negotiations with school boards until further notice Nov. 28.

A press release from the union said the action comes after the Ministry of Education refused to give approval to a number of locally-bargained tentative agreements, deeming them not “substantially identical” to a deal signed last summer by the Ontario English Catholic Teachers' Association (OECTA).

It also comes on the heels of the rejection of tentative agreements by members in York and Niagara, the press release said.

The union is currently undertaking job actions such as refusing to participate in professional activity days or some types of student supervision.

James Clyke, who represents OSSTF members working for the Rainbow board, said he's not sure at this point if his union will take any further job action. He said the topic will be discussed at provincial union meetings in Toronto Dec. 3.

“I can't really say the direction the provincial is going to take us in, but I do know that right from the very beginning, our stance has been that we're not going to be leaving the schools.”

Blaseg said the teachers are just trying to send a message that they're not happy.

“In some ways I can't blame them,” he said. “It's a level of frustration, because they're not seeing any response from the provincial government in terms of how to resolve their issues.”

At their Nov. 27 meeting, Rainbow board trustees voted in favour of passing a resolution to send a letter to Broten, requesting that Bill 115 be repealed.

Robert Kirwan was the only trustee to vote against sending the letter, although three other trustees declared a conflict of interest because their spouses either work for the Rainbow board or are retired employees.

He said it's inappropriate to send such a letter, as the ministry is the group the school board answers to. “I don't think it's in position to argue against this,” Kirwan said.

Trustee Judy Hunda, however, said the position is accepted by the Ontario Public School Boards' Association, and many other school boards have sent similar letters.

“I personally am going to support it, because we as well need to show a stand, and because we're stronger together.”

Trustee Larry Killens said he supports the idea of sending the letter because it's a way to advocate on behalf of those he represents. “This legislation is obviously doing damage to the education of our children and to our staff.”


Heidi Ulrichsen

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