Toronto’s Catholic elementary teachers are threatening to strike Monday if there’s no tentative deal with the board.
Their union sent out a memo Tuesday night saying the board planned to deduct pay from some members for refusing to take part in testing of gifted students — something banned under the current work-to-rule — and also alerting members to the escalated job action that would target one or more schools to start.
The prospect of a strike prompted Education Minister Stephen Lecce to issue a statement, saying for the union to “strike and subsequently close schools is wrong. These teacher union strikes are an affront to the interests of children who deserve to be in school,” especially given the stresses they’ve experienced during the pandemic.
“On behalf of tens of thousands of families who seek stability as Ontario gets through the challenges of Omicron: call off the strikes,” he also said.
The union memo, obtained by the Star, said after an emergency meeting, leaders of the Toronto Elementary Catholic Teachers (TECT) decided to give the board notice that “in the event that a new collective agreement is not concluded, it intends to commence a full withdrawal of instruction/services in one or more schools of the Toronto Catholic District School Board on Monday, January 31, 2022.”
For months, the teachers have been escalating their long-standing work-to-rule sanctions, which include no extracurricular activities, parent-teacher meetings and only submitting bare-bones report cards, frustrating many parents.
A statement from the Toronto Catholic District School Board said the outstanding issues between the two sides include better managing the “serious issue” of absenteeism, as well as assigning teachers to classes to reduce disruption in schools.
The Toronto local — one of a few across the province yet to reach an agreement with their board — has been without a contract since 2019.
However, provincial deals, which are typically reached first because they deal with big-money items such as salary, were not ratified until 2020, and some not reached until after the pandemic had already hit.
Contracts with individual boards usually deal with more administrative-type issues.
“This is a pivotal moment for all our members, and by standing in solidarity against the strong-armed actions of this board, we will better protect the well-being of all members and their families,” local union president Julie Altomare-DiNunzio said in the memo.
The board, however, called it “inexcusable that TECT wants to halt student learning after all students have been through during the pandemic in order to prevent the board from managing teacher absenteeism and important staffing processes.”
Chair Angela Kennedy said in a statement to the Star that “to be clear, TECT is going on strike because the board is not agreeing to their proposals in respect of two issues. First, absenteeism continues to be a serious issue that impacts the classroom experience for students. The board has the right to address attendance issues to ensure that teachers are supported while also improving attendance at work. TECT wants to prevent the board from addressing these concerns.”
She also said the board “is responsible for ensuring that staffing levels and class assignments are managed in a way that reduces disruption to students. TECT wants to limit the manner in which the board determines these important issues, particularly during the commencement of the school year.”
The only Catholic boards that don’t have local contracts with teachers are Toronto and Nipissing-Parry Sound; however; all have agreements with education workers who aren’t teachers.
Katie Piccininni, whose son is in Grade 8, says “it’s very unfortunate that it has come to this.”
“Our kids have suffered so much,” she told the Star. “At this critical juncture in the pandemic our kids need their teachers.”
Piccininni can’t understand why TECT continues to have issues with the agreement, which is in line with the one signed and ratified by the secondary school teachers’ union.
“I truly support our teachers on the ground but I do feel that there has been an abundance of misinformation through these seemingly cloak and dagger negotiations … I look forward to hearing more from both sides of the argument.”
Toronto mom Deb Hutton, whose younger daughter would be affected by a potential strike, said the news blindsided parents.
“I pay attention, and certainly knew of the work-to-rule,” she said, adding she only learned of the possibility of a strike while out volunteering at her daughter’s school morning drop-off program Wednesday.
Her daughter, who is in Grade 2, has had just one year of elementary school so far without disruption — junior kindergarten.
“If I could understand why teachers feel the need to go on strike, maybe I wouldn’t be so upset,” Hutton said. “From all I can tell, this is strictly about money and power — and it is not about my daughter, and it is not about the other children in the system. As a parent it just makes me so angry, and so sad at the same time.”
Toronto father Andrew Muzzatti said he and his wife were “shocked” when they heard news of a possible strike.
“We’re stunned that this is even on the table right now,” said Muzzatti, adding his “jaw dropped.”
“I can’t believe this is happening during a pandemic,” said Muzzatti, pointing out that his kids’ education has already been so disrupted with recent school closures and pivots to online learning.
If there is a strike, he says Charlotte, 4, and Mason, 6, will be “extremely sad and distressed.”
Since schools in Ontario reopened for in-person learning last week — following the winter break the government ordered a move to online learning for about two weeks due to climbing covid case counts — Muzzatti’s kids have been “so happy” to be back in the classroom.
“My kids have been running to school — even in the deep snow,” he said. “And now the threat of that being taken away… It’s just stunning to me.”
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