Elementary school teachers in Woolwich and Wellesley went back to work this week, but throughout Waterloo Region, students’ extracurricular activities did not return with them, and strike activity loomed on Friday.
After the provincial government and Ontario teachers unions failed to reach a contract agreement by December 31, the province used its controversial Bill 115 to impose contracts on the teachers. The new contracts, which took effect on January 3, freeze wages and eliminate the banking of sick days. With the right to strike limited to one-day walkouts, Waterloo Region’s teachers have joined with others in the province in removing extracurricular activities.“The reality is, there isn’t anything else for people to look for to have a meaningful impact,” said Greg Weiler, president of the Waterloo Region branch of the Elementary Teacher’s Federation of Ontario. “The unfortunate thing is, no one wants to do anything that has a negative impact on anyone – that’s basic human nature, especially for teachers, more so than any other group as a whole, because of the nature of their jobs and the fact that they work with young children.
“That being said,” Weiler continued, “the reality of the situation is that just protesting or writing letters or doing those sorts of things don’t have the same kind of impact.”
But the teachers are not limiting their action to extracurriculars. On Friday, teachers across the province staged a walkout. “The impact will be felt in all 104 elementary schools in our region,” said Mark Schinkel, Executive Superintendant of Education at WRDSB, on Thursday before the strike. “As a result of the decision by teachers not to report for duty, we are in a position of having to close all of our elementary schools.” Schinkel added that this activity would not affect secondary schools.
Abigail Dancey, manager of communications with the Waterloo Region District School Board, said officials will be keeping an eye on the situation as classes resume.
“It’s pretty early to know which way the wind will blow on this and what teachers are going to decide to do. Our position right now is that we’re going to take a little bit of time and see how that sorts itself out,” said Dancey. “It is only a few days, and the contracts were announced on the third, so it is a bit early.”
Still, she said the board is concerned about how the vanishing of after-school activities will affect life for the region’s elementary school students.
“We do hope that teachers do decide to do those extracurriculars. The activities that teachers provide on a volunteer basis are very important to students, especially co-curricular activities like trips and homework clubs and arts and athletics,” said Dancey.
“Obviously students are in the middle of this, and obviously if extracurriculars were to go away, it would be a real detriment to their education.”