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Secondary teachers take strike action downtown

The PECI union members were split into shifts, at the K-12 school, and some on Picton Main while other picketed at the Hastings and Prince Edward District School Board office in Belleville. – Tom Goyer photo

By Tom Goyer
Ontario Secondary School Teachers Federation (OSSTF) members at Prince Edward Collegiate Institute took their picket line to downtown Picton Thursday, receiving several serenades of horns from passing vehicles.

The union members were on Main Street to gather more public attention to issues, especially size of classes.

One teacher stated the class size issue is important because it has a dramatic effect on the quality of education for many students.

“It is not the university level science and math courses that this issue affects. It is the college and locally developed levels with students who require more individual support with their learning. Increased class sizes prevent these students from receiving the help they need to succeed,” the teacher explained.

Another teacher chimed in that e-learning was also a big concern.

“We haven’t seen what quality of course will be brought to the students. Until I can see that they are up to standards of regular courses I won’t support them,” the teacher said.

“I’m not concerned about teachers here. I’m concerned about students,” another teacher added.

The PECI union members were split into shifts, at the K-12 school, and some on Picton Main while other picketed at the Hastings and Prince Edward District School Board office in Belleville.

The walkouts took place across Ontario as the unions and the provincial government have failed to reach labour agreements. Rotating strikes were held at nine school boards. Members of the Ontario English Catholic Teachers’ Association were also on strike today province-wide, but were not visible outside St. Gregory School in Picton.

Some local residents passing by the union members said they support the teachers.

“They work very hard and do the very best for our children,” said Patty Lavictoire, noing she has volunteered in schools in the past and says that in her experience, smaller class sizes were better for the students.

“It is easier for the teacher to manage the needs of the students when there are less students,” she said.

Today’s job action went ahead despite calls from Education Minister Stephen Lecce for their cancellation in light government concessions to keep the class size at 23, up from last year’s 22, but down from the government’s original plan of 28. The government announced it will also let parents opt out of e-learning courses that were previously mandatory.

“I have offered all teachers’ union federations a fair and reasonable plan, which should pave the way to reaching a good deal that keeps students in class,” Lecce said in a press release.

The offers are not what they seem, states Scott Marshall, President, OSSTF District 29 (including Picton).

The move to a 23:1 average class size is not a concession on the part of government. Just last year the average class size was 22:1. Their new proposal is still a unilateral increase that is going to result in at least a thousand fewer teachers in Ontario’s schools, and fewer supports for the students who need them most,” he stated in a press release.

“As it stands, yesterday’s announcement will cement thousands of course cancellations already seen in many boards this school year, and eliminate individual class size caps, leaving some classrooms with as many students as can be packed in.”

He noted the move to allow students to opt out of mandatory e-learning, on the surface, is an improvement.

“But there are still many questions around how that will work. This ‘negative billing’ approach to opting-out is problematic for parents and students. Furthermore, the class size average proposal for e-learning remains at 35:1, resulting in further losses of teaching positions, and fewer program opportunities for students.”

Meanwhile, an estimated 15,000 people were expected to attend a rally today at Queen’s Park with three of four teacher’s unions participating. The Elementary Teachers’ Federation of Ontario has put its rotating strikes on hold but would escalate its job action campaign if it is still without a deal by March 9.

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