A dark cloud of uncertainty will be hanging in the air Tuesday as most classes across the province are set to resume.
That figurative cloud is made up of questions and trepidation surrounding the festering battle between the province and the unions representing both high school and elementary teachers. The summer months provided little clarity in terms of what would happen as the Ontario government continued to push ahead with its education reform.
One thing is certain, there will be teachers in the classroom when students show up on Tuesday. That much was determined in mid-August when the Ontario Secondary School Teachers’ Federation (OSSTF) released a statement confirming teachers had ruled out a September back-to-school strike, despite the fact their contracts expire at the end of August.
Sam Hammond, president of the Elementary Teachers Federation of Ontario (ETFO) says their union is prepared for ‘battle’. While that doesn’t include a strike as of yet, the ETFO president says they plan to ramp up a campaign of billboards, online and radio ads that express their displeasure with the Ontario government.
At the heart of the issue is perceived funding cuts, job losses and classroom sizes.
Though schools will be full next week, there’s no guarantee there won’t be some sort of interruption to the school year.
Ideally cooler heads will prevail on both sides and a strike can be avoided. Each party has their disagreements but most would likely agree, for the student’s benefit anyway, the best case situation is to have kids in class. Strikes have a tendency to drag on, typically costing two or three weeks of lost time. For graduating students a work stoppage can cause all sorts of headaches as they attempt to earn their last few credits before seeking post secondary education. Even those not graduating feel the effects of a strike as lesson plans are often condensed to try and make up for lost time when class does pick up where it was halted.
Common ground was found on at least one area, as the government walked back its plans to revert to the 1998 sex-ed cirriculum. That means students will once again learn about sexual orientation, gender identity and the dangers of ‘sexting’, though those lessons will be taught in Grade 8 as opposed to Grade 6. Parents will have the option to exempt their children from those lessons should they not want them to learn it.
As with any issue, the sudden reversal in policy was welcomed by those who spoke out against the changes but has upset a section of Doug Ford’s support base who elected the premier on the hope he’d revert to a lesson plan with which they were more comfortable. It also cost an estimated $1 million in consultation to revert back to a plan that is largely considered similar to the one introduced in 2015 by the previous government. Lost money, perhaps, but the end result was one that benefits students.
Ideally more common ground can continue to be found and both sides consider the needs of the students above all else.