TORONTO – Ontario high school teachers announced Thursday they will start an administrative work-to-rule campaign next week, coinciding with one by elementary teachers, not appeased by the education minister partly backing off a controversial e-learning proposal.
The Progressive Conservative government’s original plan, announced in the spring, would have required students to complete four online courses to graduate. Teachers and students called it experimental, not suited for every student, and not practical for those without regular access to high-speed internet.
Education Minister Stephen Lecce said Thursday that students will now have to complete two online courses to graduate, starting in 2023-24.
“This is another demonstration of our reasonableness at the negotiating table to underscore our commitment to getting deals that keep kids in class,” he said.
It marks the second policy the government has walked back in bargaining. The Tories have said they are increasing average high school class sizes from 22 to 28, but has said in negotiations with high school teachers that it is willing to drop that class size of 28 to 25.
Neither backtrack goes far enough, said Harvey Bischof, the president of the Ontario Secondary School Teachers’ Federation.
“He’s gone halfway towards doing the right thing, but once again this is a ‘fire, ready, aim’ approach,” Bischof said.
Bischof announced that high school teachers will join their elementary school counterparts in starting a job action on Tuesday, which will include not putting comments on report cards, not participating in standardized testing, and not taking part in unpaid staff meetings outside school hours.
It will also include information pickets, but they won’t prevent or delay students from getting into schools, Bischof said.
The Ontario Student Trustees’ Association said it was pleased to hear of the changes to the e-learning plan, but still wants it to be fully scrapped.
“Students who have difficulty accessing technology, with varied learning styles, and those who have trouble learning without one-on-one interaction, are amongst those who will continue to be impacted by this mandate,” president Sally Meseret wrote in a statement.
Lecce said individual exemptions will be allowed.
NDP education critic Marit Stiles said mandating e-learning was always about cutting costs, not improving education. Green party Leader Mike Schreiner said two mandatory courses present the same challenges as four, given what he called “huge gaps” in high-speed internet coverage and the fact that not all families own a computer.
Earlier this week, Lecce called on the teachers’ unions to enter into mediation, and the high school teachers took him up on the offer. But Bischof lamented that Lecce first made that offer during a news conference, and said the minister interrupted bargaining to make Thursday’s announcement through the media.
“My understanding is that he simply doesn’t get how collective bargaining works and he’s way out of his depth,” Bischof said