Teachers will strike over Bill 160
By Sara Marett
In an announcement yesterday which will have a striking impact, Ontario's teachers set a date for political protest, while the provincial government stood firm.
Ontario's teachers' federations announced they will hold a province-wide illegal strike starting Monday Oct. 27 in protest of the government's education reform outlined in Bill 160 which includes reform to areas such as class size, less preparation time and increased teaching time for teachers, control of education tax rates and replacing some teachers with non-certified professionals.
During meetings between the Minister of Education and teachers' federations which began Monday, teachers put forth alternatives to Bill 160.
Shortly after the announcement, Education Minister Dave Johnson said in a televised news conference the government was given ultimatums, not alternatives from teachers concerning the Bill. He ensured the public the government will take measures to help parents and students cope with the strike.
Johnson explained parents who must make alternative child care arrangements because of closed schools will be compensated $40 per day. This money will come from the savings school boards will accumulate from the closures, said Daniele Gauvin, information officer for the Ministry.
"The school boards will be saving approximately $25 million a day in teachers' wages and the government has the power to implement this legislation," she said. The government is also prepared to provide learning support material for parents if the strike goes on for a substantial length of time.
Patrick Dunne, director of education for the London and Middlesex County Roman Catholic School Board, said schools in his district will be closed to students Monday. He agreed with the government's initiative to provide assistance for parents and explained the school boards would not ordinarily keep the money they save by being closed in this type of situation.
Allen Pearson, Western's dean of education, said education students will be affected by the strike as they are presently two weeks into their four week practicum session. He said the faculty will be holding an information session Tuesday to ensure students are aware of the Bill and its implications to the education system.
"If the strike ends by the end of next week, students will return to their placements. If the strike continues any longer, we will try to reschedule a week of practicum in December," Pearson said.
Maret Sadem-Thompson, president of the Federation of Women Teachers' Associations of Ontario, said the government's actions over the past week have been disappointing. "We were prepared to meet with Johnson last week and instead he went on a retreat," she said. "He told the public he would back down from certain aspects of the Bill and told us something completely different during meetings on Monday."
Sadem-Thompson said Johnson fast-tracked the Bill through legislation for a second reading and cut down the amount of public hearings.
"He also stacked the public hearings this week with parents who teach their children at home rather than parents who have children in the public school system," she said, adding over 1,000 parents who wanted to attend could not.
In an televised address to the province last night, Premier Mike Harris said teachers are taking the wrong course of action with an illegal strike and the province will not back down. "The quality of education does not come from picket signs and rhetoric," he said. "This is the month parents and students will again come first."