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Catholic teachers join public board on the picket lines

Tuesday saw OECTA members march in front of MPP Mike Harris' Elmira office

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Local Catholic elementary and high school teachers hit the picket lines Tuesday, marching up and down Arthur Street in Elmira as part of a one-day, province-wide strike.

It’s not an uncommon sight in town, with two previous teacher walkouts taking place in December during Ontario Secondary School Teachers’ Federation (OSSTF) action against the Ford government. This time, it is the Ontario English Catholic Teachers Association (OECTA) launching strike action.

The reasons that prompted the strike are the same across both boards, however, according to Bill Conway, chair of the board of trustees at the Waterloo Catholic District School Board.

“The classroom ratio of teachers to students is certainly a big issue, and then e-learning I would say, are the key issues,” said Conway. “Because that’s definitely going to affect student success, achievement and well-being. That’s something we’re not in favour of.”

The teachers are looking to keep classroom sizes at 22, while the province favours a higher average of 28. E-learning courses are another point of contention; the Ford government wants to make online classes mandatory, while teachers feel that would hurt student learning.

These negotiations have been ongoing for months, with a newsletter sent out by the OECTA reading that the organization has met almost 40 times with the government and school board trustees, to no avail.

Ontario Education Minister Stephen Lecce announced on January 15 that the province would compensate parents affected by the ongoing strikes.

Families with children six-years-old and younger who attend a school-based child care centre will receive $60 a day. Students in Kindergarten will get $40 per day, while students in Grade 1 up to Grade 7 will get $25 per day. Students with special needs up to age 21 receive $40 a day.

Lecce also issued a statement in response to January 21 strike.

“We fully recognize the negative impacts teacher union escalation is having on families. It is why we are calling on these union leaders to end these strikes, given the adverse effects on students and financial hardship on parents,” said Lecce. “While this union-led escalation happens far too often, we are committed to negotiating deals that keep students in class, while providing financial support for families for child care needs.”

The rotating strikes were organized in such a way to put pressure on the government, rather than to adversely affect students learning, added Conway.

“One day off doesn’t feel imposing,” said Conway. Many days would present a lot more challenges, for parents to find daycare, etcetera,” said Conway. I would compare it to… it’s a bit like a snow day.”

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