Toronto’s Catholic elementary teachers are engaging in an “unacceptable” job action by not taking part in interviews with parents or completing report cards, says education minister Stephen Lecce.
In a rare move for a provincial education minister, Lecce weighed in on the work-to-rule at the Toronto Catholic District School Board, urging elementary educators to “do the right thing.”
“It is entirely unacceptable for the local teachers’ union to refuse to conduct parent-teacher interviews and provide detailed report cards, after a difficult year and a half for students and parents alike,” Lecce said in a statement to the Star.
“Enough is enough. We owe it to students to put them first, which is why I’m calling on the union to immediately reinstate these basic services that students and parents deserve. I believe strongly that this union should work with — not against — students and parents, and do the right thing by allowing these interviews to be done, and detailed report cards provided.”
The ongoing work-to-rule by the Toronto Elementary Catholic Teachers union, known as TECT, includes a ban on extracurriculars, not participating in grade-to-grade transition meetings and refusing parent-teacher interviews — although the board has said that for kindergarten students, classroom early childhood educators can conduct them.
TECT President Julie Altomare-Di Nunzio said “rather than interfering in local bargaining, Minister Lecce should be laser-focused on providing the necessary supports so that students can recover from the school years disrupted by the Ford government’s failure to properly address COVID-19. Teachers continue to deliver the full curriculum to their students and communicate with parents on an ongoing basis.”
She previously told the Star that while the fall interviews are banned, teachers can reach out on an emergency basis.
“At a time when students are already suffering from pandemic-related learning loss, we urge the TCDSB to do the right thing and return to the bargaining table and enter into collaborative dialogue that results in a fair agreement that supports all Catholic students and teachers,” Altomare-Di Nunzio also said.
The job action impacts about 58,000 students, who are set to receive bare-bones report cards starting next week — reports that contain a grade but no comments, except for religious studies.
Parent-teacher interviews were scheduled for Nov. 16, 18 and 19.
Parents have been frustrated with the job action, saying after 18 months of on-again, off-again in-person learning, they want to meet with teachers to know how their kids are doing.
However, negotiations between the 4,000-member union local and board have stalled over issues including problematic teacher absenteeism, which the board wants to better manage.
Currently teachers must provide a medical document after five consecutive days off confirming a reason for their absence.
Altomare-Di Nunzio has said the board wants to “claw back teacher rights,” but TCDSB chair Joseph Martino has said it has offered “virtually the same collective agreement that has been accepted and ratified by other unions at the board.”
Teachers across the province have signed provincial collective agreements, which were settled last year and deal with big issues such as salary and benefits. Local unions then negotiate with individual boards on more administrative issues.
TECT’s work-to-rule began last spring and elementary teachers did not take part in any end-of-year celebrations for students and the board was forced to cancel most summer catch-up programs for elementary schools meant to help kids who have fallen behind during the pandemic.