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Durham teachers striking for more support in classrooms

Click to play video: 'Durham teachers take to picket lines to fight for more support in classrooms' Durham teachers take to picket lines to fight for more support in classrooms
Hundreds of education workers were off the job as in Durham Region as the ETFO continues to battle with the province. – Feb 4, 2020

Ontario-wide strikes are in effect once again Tuesday.

Hundreds of teachers took to the picket lines after they were unable to reach a deal with the province.

“I don’t know how we get through the brick wall of mantra, of dishonest mantra, really,” says Barb Haynes, a teacher on the line.

“We really have no idea where this will end.”

The province and several teachers’ unions are at odds over two main points, class sizes and e-learning requirements. Ontario’s education minister, Stephen Lecce, has repeatedly claimed that job action is not about the increase in class sizes and insists it’s more about compensation — something that Durham ETFO president Mary Fowler denies.

READ MORE: ETFO says government abruptly ended talks last Friday after deal was within reach, Hammond says

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“It’s very disappointing,” says Fowler. “It does not seem like a large amount of money that is separating us. When I say large amount of money, I don’t mean salary. I’m talking about supports and the people to put the supports in the schools for the kids.”

That was a main sticking point for several teachers on the line at Bobby Orr Public School in Oshawa, including Haynes, who has been teaching for more than 20 years. She says under current conditions, she can’t dedicate her time to delivering quality education.

“We want to have every child to have that lift to be successful and to be able to go forward and chase their dreams and their abilities,” Haynes says. “But if I’m the EA (educational assistant) for one student who, if I move from his desk he stops (working), if I’m his EA, I’m not the teacher for the rest.”

READ MORE: Ontario’s Catholic teachers move ahead with province-wide strike after unsuccessful contract talks

That concern is echoed by Elyse Andrews. She has been teaching for seven years and says she has seen a change in the classroom, making her job challenging.

“Over half of my students have some kind of need, whether it’s behavioural or educational,” Andrews says. “I definitely struggle to support those kids. It’s just me in the room, nobody else.”

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A 2018 study by professors with the University of Ottawa found teachers reported being bitten, hit and kicked amid a myriad of other instances of violence and aggression. Nearly 1,700 educators were asked about their experiences of a broad range of workplace harassment, and more than 54 per cent of teachers reported experiencing some form of physical violence.

Andrews says a staff member at her school has been off work due to an injury suffered at work.

Click to play video: 'High school teachers picketing in York Region for a 1-day strike' High school teachers picketing in York Region for a 1-day strike
High school teachers picketing in York Region for a 1-day strike – Feb 4, 2020

“Our administrator is on leave because she was hurt by a student,” says Andrews. “It made it very clear that we need support for these students to support these needs of these kids.”

in a statement to Global News, Alexandra Adamo with the Ministry of Education says the Ontario government “has invested more in mental health and special education funding for students, along with de-escalation training for staff.”

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“We are aware there is much more work to do to improve safety of staff and students and have restored the local priorities fund and hired over 1,000 front-line workers, who are helping keep classrooms safe,” Adamo said.

ETFO members across the province are planning to strike on Thursday as well.

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