Around 800 teachers gathered in St. Thomas on Friday outside local Progressive Conservative MPP Jeff Yurek’s office, as contract negotiations with the province stalled.
Members of the Elementary Teachers’ Federation of Ontario (ETFO), Ontario Secondary School Teachers’ Federation (OSSTF), Ontario English Catholic Teachers Association (OECTA), and Association des enseignantes et des enseignants franco-ontariens (AEFO) are participating in a one-day strike to put pressure on the provincial government to come to a deal.
Friday was the first time since 1997 that teachers and education workers from all four unions have striked on the same day.
“This isn’t just something that happens, it only happens when it’s a really big deal,” said Grade 1 and 2 Catholic teacher Lori Olds.
Olds is one of the roughly 800 teachers participating in the demonstration in St Thomas.
Education minister Stephen Lecce has said the teachers’ main sticking point is compensation, but Olds disagrees.
“The government is not always telling the truth, and we have to look at all the information and evaluate,” she said.
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Lecce, meanwhile, said parents are getting a raw deal because kids should be in class.
“The fact that these strikes happen far too often is a problem. The fact it happens far too often in the past weeks demonstrates there needs to be some joint resolution for all the parties to stay focused on an outcome,” Lecce said.
READ MORE: Where are Ontario teachers striking next?
ETFO Grade 4 teacher Brent Kelders was also in St. Thomas and said the teachers are ready to get back to the table.
“We want supports in our classroom. We want to keep our classroom numbers down so we can support our most vulnerable students,” Kelders said.
Meanwhile, in London, several hundred teachers from all four unions gathered outside the Thames Valley District School board Office.
Speaking on behalf of French public school teachers, Patrick Druiez said any cuts will have a big impact on French schools.
“The French schools in London are particularly small, so every cut makes it much more difficult to offer the choice of classes,” Druiez said, “because less teachers mean less courses and fewer options for the students.”
As a high school science teacher, Druiez also expressed concern about e-learning and class sizes, adding that science requires a lot of hands-on work that is difficult with more students and does not give them the same experience online.
Among the issues on which the government and unions continue to disagree are class sizes, e-learning and compensation. The unions have been without a contract since the end of August and have been engaging in labour action for the past few months.
Meanwhile, the Ontario English Catholic Teachers’ Association (OECTA) has announced that if an agreement is not reached, members will participate in rotating full withdrawals of service next week.
This will impact all students in the London District Catholic School Board on Friday, Feb. 28.
— With files from Ryan Rocca Global News