The threat of a strike by education staff next Monday has parents and students frustrated at the prospect of schools closing again and learning going online.
On Wednesday, the Canadian Union of Public Employees, which represents 55,000 school workers in Ontario, said that if a contract agreement isn’t reached with the province by Monday, it will stage a full-scale walkout — an announcement that came nearly two weeks after members left the job canceled for two days.
The union, which includes educational assistants, clerks, janitors and educators, says wages are no longer the main issue and that it wants more staff in schools.
School authorities are busy making contingency plans. Toronto’s public and Catholic bodies have said they will close schools beginning Monday and move to distance learning if an agreement isn’t reached.
Toronto’s mother Patricia Ocampo is “frustrated and concerned” that an agreement cannot be reached over fears it will affect students’ education and exacerbate the learning loss caused by the pandemic.
“I’m frustrated that the adults in the room can’t figure it out for the sake of our kids,” said Ocampo, whose girls are in 2nd and 5th graders. “We are all aware of the loss of education that has happened during the pandemic. So any additional time we lose from teaching feels like a great loss. It feels like we’re going further backwards when we’re already behind.”
Her daughters don’t like virtual learning, but they will enroll, Ocampo says, because “any connection they can maintain with their teachers and students is so important.”
“They’re going to be really frustrated and upset. And it’s just going to cause so many problems, especially for working parents,” said Ocampo, who works from home as a children’s book editor, adding that it will be difficult to juggle work while he’s helping them online -Learning helps.
Still, Ocampo supports the union because she says she supports consistency for children, quality support and more full-time staff in schools.
A Toronto parent who is also an elementary school teacher and asked not to be named worries how the threat of a second strike will be received by parents.
“Public support will eventually wane,” she said, adding that the government should have paid CUPE instead of paying parents $200-$250 in back-up payments for tutoring.
On November 4 and 7, CUPE workers were out of work after collapsing talks with the province, which used the “non-compliance clause” to override charter rights and impose a treaty. This sparked backlash from unions, educators and parents, forcing most bodies to close schools for in-person learning. The province agreed to repeal this law and CUPE members went back to work, with both sides resuming negotiations. On Wednesday, they hit an impasse.
Toronto mother Logan Wilson, whose daughters are in junior kindergarten and 2nd grade, supports the union and believes the government is “taking advantage of desperate parents and hoping to pit them against CUPE”.
Wilson welcomes the strike even though “it’s totally inappropriate” because she works from home, where she designs and sews children’s clothes. While she won’t be reaching out for childcare like many parents in the province, there’s no way she’ll be able to work at home with her girls, neither of whom will be taking distance learning “because it’s not good for them.” mental health of my children.”
Similarly, Toronto social worker Sara Marlowe, who supports the union, will not put her children in grades 2 and 7 on online learning. During the recent CUPE strike, she said her daughter “screamed and started crying” at the thought, noting, “It was traumatizing.”
“We don’t do online schools. It’s not effective. It’s not developmentally appropriate,” Marlowe said. “I hear from so many parents whose kids are really struggling with this.”
With files by Kristin Rushowy
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