After two and a half years of pandemic learning, contract negotiations between the province and five of its largest education unions could lead to more upheaval for York Region schools, students and families in the fall. .
“We all hope that the negotiations go well and that they receive fair wages so that there is no prolonged period of zeal or strike,” says Shameela Shakeel, education advocate and founder of Group Facebook Families for Safe Schools in York Region.
“Any further disruption is going to be really difficult for families after everything we’ve been through,” the Newmarket mother-of-four adds.
Ontario students were out of class and learning more online than any other in North America and most of Europe. Remote learning, access issues, COVID restrictions, school closures and staffing shortages were among the many challenges families and schools faced.
In a bid to avoid further disruption from possible industrial action, teachers and support staff unions filed notices to bargain in June before contracts expired at the end of August.
“I think that really speaks to the importance we see of getting in there and having good discussions before the start of September,” says Laura Walton, president of the Ontario School Board Council of Unions, a CUPE division representing 55,000 custodians, school secretaries and education officials. assistants whose average salary is $39,000.
Shakeel says the province needs to come to the table with the best interests of students in mind. And she hopes families and parents will show solidarity with education workers.
“So many different people are essential to our children’s education system. We need better pay and better working conditions so schools have what they need, which translates into better learning conditions for our students and children,” she says.
Writing directly to re-elected Premier Doug Ford in June, front-line workers from public, Catholic, Anglophone and Francophone school boards across the province called for increased staffing in schools to ensure that improvements in student services are implemented. in place in September as well. as the real wage rises above the rate of inflation to address low wages and retention issues.
“Whether schools receive enough money to stop damaging cuts and to ensure that all students, especially students with special needs, have the right supports and services is a political choice made by our elected representatives,” Walton said. “This government has no excuse to cut corners on the future of our children or to keep education workers on the brink of poverty.
Shakeel agrees, adding that any further cuts to education are unacceptable.
“All the numbers show that they’ve cut public education funding, even during the pandemic, to the point that they’re spending $800 less per student on public education,” she said. “It is impacting our students and it is simply unacceptable.”
She adds that policy changes such as increased class sizes and mandatory online learning make it harder for educators to meet the needs of all students and seem designed to hamstring the public education system and make it less acceptable to parents.
“When you look at the numbers it’s really obvious that their focus is privatization and charter schools and I think as a public we need to be more aware of that and fight against those kinds of initiatives and really fight for our public education system to remain one of the best in the world.
The Elementary Teachers’ Federation of Ontario (ETFO) – which represents approximately 83,000 public elementary teachers, substitute teachers, designated early childhood educators, educational support staff and staff professional support – says collaboration is needed to keep Ontario’s public education system free from “further cuts and chaos”.
He says he’s ready to work with the government to improve public education, but he’s also “fully prepared” to challenge it, if necessary, to get the funding, support and resources students need.
STORY BEHIND THE STORY: Journalist Heidi Riedner looked at the impact labor negotiations could have on the challenges of going back to school in the fall.