School boards to keep schools closed, go virtual next week and beyond if strike continues

Parents and students joined thousands of education workers on the picket line, as school boards made contingency plans for the duration of the strike. Tina Yazdani reports.

By Michael Ranger and The Canadian Press

Several school boards in the Greater Toronto Area say schools will remain closed next week and students will switch to remote learning if an education workers’ strike continues.

The Toronto District School Board — which previously said schools would be closed until the strike is over — said Friday it was hopeful an agreement could be reached, but if job action continues, it would have to move to virtual learning.

“TDSB students will begin transitioning to synchronous (live, interactive) learning early next week, if the strike action continues,” the board said in a memo sent to parents.

The Toronto District Catholic School Board and the York Catholic District School Board say their schools will remain closed next week in the event of an extended strike and students will start remote learning Monday.

York Region’s public school board says students will do virtual learning if the strike continues, but has not specified what day that would start.

In Peel Region, the board says schools will remain closed Monday in the event of a continued strike, and if it continues beyond that day, students will start remote learning on Tuesday.

The Kawartha Pine Ridge District School Board said schools will remain closed Monday and teachers will assign work for students to do at home.

The Ministry of Education has urged school boards to “implement contingency plans, where every effort is made to keep schools open for as many children as possible” and otherwise “must support students in a speedy transition to remote learning.”

On Friday, striking Ontario education workers picketed at politicians’ offices across the province, with a major demonstration taking place at the legislature in Toronto.

It came one day after the Progressive Conservative government enacted a law imposing contracts on 55,000 education workers represented by the Canadian Union of Public Employees and banned them from striking.

The law also uses the notwithstanding clause to protect against constitutional challenges. But CUPE says the law is an attack on all workers’ bargaining rights and is staging a strike anyway, warning that it will likely last longer than one day.

“I know that as long as our members our willing to fight we will stand with them,” said CUPE president Fred Hahn. “Our goal is to push until we get real justice, not just for these workers, but for all workers.”

Union officials have made it clear they intend to strike until a new deal is reached with the government.

The province is seeking to have the walkout declared illegal by the Ontario Labour Relations Board and actions by union leaders declared unlawful.

The new legislation sets out fines for violating a prohibition on strikes for the life of the agreement of up to $4,000 per employee per day, while there are fines of up to $500,000 for the union.

Education Minister Stephen Lecce has suggested the government would pursue those penalties, while the union has said it would foot the bill for fines levied against workers, which could cost as much as $220 million per day.

“Immediately following proclamation of the Keeping Students in Class Act, we filed a submission to the Ontario Labour Relations Board in response to CUPE’s illegal strike action,” Lecce said in a statement released Friday. “Proceedings started last night and will continue today.”

“Nothing matters more right now than getting all students back in the classroom and we will use every tool available to us to do so.”

CUPE plans to fight the fines, but at the end of the day, the union has said if it has to pay, it will pay. CUPE leaders have previously suggested that the union is looking for outside financial help from other labour groups.

“That piece of legislation threatens the rights of every working person in the province of Ontario,” Hahn says.


The government originally offered raises of two per cent a year for workers making less than $40,000 and 1.25 per cent for all others, but Lecce said the new, imposed four-year deal would give 2.5 per cent annual raises to workers making less than $43,000 and 1.5 per cent raises for all others.

CUPE has said that framing is not accurate because the raises actually depend on hourly wages and pay scales, so the majority of workers who earn less than $43,000 in a year wouldn’t get 2.5 per cent.

CUPE has said its workers, who make on average $39,000 a year, are generally the lowest paid in schools and had been seeking annual salary increases of 11.7 per cent.

The union said it cut its wage proposal by more than half in a counter-offer it gave the government Tuesday night and made “substantial” moves in other areas as well. However, the government said it would not negotiate unless CUPE cancelled the strike.

Members of many other unions are set to join CUPE members on the picket lines.

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