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Angry teachers had back to work

High schools could reopen as soon as Friday with passing of back-to-work legislation

By Graeme McNaughton/The Oshawa Express

The head of the union representing Durham’s public high school teachers says the right to strike has been unfairly taken away from them.

“We’re incredibly frustrated with the situation. The school board just gets to sit on its hands and not negotiate with us, all the way through the strike even. Since the beginning of January, all the way through five weeks of strike action, and then we just have the right to strike taken away from us,” said Dave Barrowclough, the president of the Ontario Secondary School Teachers Federation’s District 13. “We would’ve expected that they should’ve been made to come to a table and bargain with us in earnest.”

Public high school teachers in Durham, along with those striking in Peel and Rainbow regions, could be back in the classroom as soon as Friday after back-to-work legislation was tabled earlier in the week.

Liz Sandals, the province’s minister of education, tabled the legislation Monday morning, following an advisement from the Education Relations Commission, which stated students in the three regions affected by strikes – Durham, Peel and Rainbow – are in jeopardy of losing their school years because of the labour disruption.

“The proposed Protecting the School Year Act is essential for getting students back to class and putting them in a position to successfully complete their courses,” Sandals says in a statement announcing the legislation. “Our government has great respect for both teachers and the collective bargaining process, but our first priority is supporting student achievement and well-being. In this case, that means introducing proposed legislation that would protect the school year for 72,000 students.”

The legislation could have seen its first debate on Monday had all three parties consented to it. However, NDP leader Andrea Horwath declined to support it, meaning the earliest it could be passed is on Thursday.

The passing of the legislation would have students back in class the next day.

Back to class

Having teachers legislated back to work is not the way that Durham District School Board chair Mike Barrett wanted the six-week long teachers’ strike to end – but he’ll take it.

“We’re pleased that they’re coming back because we certainly recognize that entering into our sixth week, the school year was getting to the point of jeopardy. It’s still not our first choice,” he told The Oshawa Express. “We would have preferred a negotiated settlement, but since that process certainly was not working, we’ll take this.”

The legislation will see the school boards and OSSTF enter into mediation-arbitration. Once the bill receives royal assent, both parties are expected to appoint their representative for the arbitration sessions within five days.

Barrowclough says he’d have much rather seen a negotiated settlement than having to deal through a mediator, then having an arbitrator make the final call on a new deal.

“What it’s going to result in is teachers being forced back to work under an arbitrated decision in the end, rather than a collectively-bargained agreement,” he said, adding the latter type of deal is the kind that works the best in the long run.

With classes set to resume as soon as Friday, Barrett says the board is looking for ways to make up for nearly six weeks of lost time in the classroom. Much to the pleasure of everyone – students especially – the school year will not be extended.

“What it does mean is that when the legislature gets to voting on the back-to-work legislation, then we’ll be utilizing whatever time is left between now and the end of the school year for instruction. We’ve had a lot of discussion to not have exams, because exams can eat up a week, week and a half,” he said, adding that decision hasn’t been officially confirmed but is likely to be the direction going ahead.

“Exams certainly have a role that they play, but crisis means you have to be able to utilize other methods in order to resolve that.”