Ontario’s Ministry of Education is directing school boards to “implement contingency plans” after the union representing some 55,000 education workers issued another strike notice.
In a memo, obtained by Global News, the Ministry of Education said it was making the request to school boards in an effort to “minimize disruptions to students, parents and guardians in the event that CUPE does not reach and agreement, and proceeds with its strike action.”
“School boards that would be affected by a work withdrawal by CUPE staff should carefully assess how best to ensure student safety and continuity of learning,” the memo read.
The Canadian Union of Public Employees (CUPE), which represents custodians, educational assistants, administrative staff in schools, librarians and bus drivers, said Wednesday that negotiations with the Ontario government had once again broken down.
READ MORE: What you need to know as Ontario education workers issue another strike notice
Laura Walton, president of CUPE-OSBCU, said members will walk off the job for a “full strike” on Monday.
In the memo, the ministry said “where a school board determines that it can provide in-person learning for all students, school boards should plan accordingly and continue to communicate with students and families to ensure appropriate notice is provided, including expectations about how long in-person learning may be possible during this upcoming withdrawal of services.”
The ministry said “unless other circumstances exist that require closure,” schools should remain open to staff so they are able to “deliver remote learning.”
What’s more, the ministry said if a board determines its schools can’t stay open, they must “support students in a speedy transition to remote learning.”
“It is important that students are benefitting from live, teacher-led learning during this period,” the memo said. “It is expected that school boards deliver synchronous learning to students, to ensure the continuity of learning.”
The ministry said “special attention should be paid to our most vulnerable children and those with special education needs,” adding that boards should work “flexibly to accommodate their needs” including ensuring they have access to specialized equipment and supports.”
Where possible, boards are asked to “continue to focus planning efforts to support in person learning” for students with special education needs who “cannot be accommodated through remote learning based on individual needs.”
The ministry also said boards should have “safety plans” in place for those students who are or could be experiencing mental health challenges, and should make “every effort” to accommodate children who rely on Ontario’s Breakfast programs to ensure they have access to nutritional food.
The ministry said child care programs should also be considered in contingency planning.
Several school boards in the Toronto area have already indicated they will close their schools to students if CUPE members withdraw their services on Monday, including the Toronto District School Board, Toronto Catholic District School Board, York Region District School Board and Peel District School Board.
In a statement Wednesday, Education Minister Stephen Lecce said the government is “disappointed” that the union filed another strike notice.
Lecce said that since talks resumed, the government has put forward “multiple improved offers” to CUPE members, that he said “would have added hundreds of millions of dollars across the sector, especially for lower income workers.”
“CUPE has rejected all of these offers,” he said in the statement. “We are at the table ready to land a fair deal that invests more in lower income workers and keeps kids in class.”
Speaking at a press conference on Wednesday, Walton said the two sides had reached a middle ground with the government on wages, but claims the government has refused to “invest in the services that students need and parents expect.”
“This has never been just about money,” Walton said. “This is what the premier and the minister want you to believe — that this is about money in our hands. This has always been about services.”
Both sides have indicated the talks will continue ahead of the strike deadline.
In a statement Thursday, CUPE said both parties had agreed to set a deadline of 5 p.m., on Sunday evening “so we can provide parents and caregivers as much notice as possible.”