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No teacher layoffs in Durham for now

Current agreement expires Aug. 31

By Dave Flaherty/The Oshawa Express

With school boards across the province issuing layoff notices to high school teachers, educators in Durham have been spared – for now.

According to Lamia Sabbagh, president of the Ontario Secondary School Teachers Federation (OSSTF) District 13, the Durham board has agreed to maintain the current student to teacher ratio of 22 to 1.

“We said [increasing the ratio to 28 to 1] is against our collective agreement. We are protected at that 22 to 1 ratio,” Sabbagh explains.

Because the board agreed, Sabbagh says OSSTF members in Durham are not in a position to have any layoffs.

But once the current collective agreement expires on Aug. 31, 2019, Sabbagh says they “no longer have that protection.”

“We will find ourselves in a similar situation  [as other boards].”

The province plans to eliminate 3,475 teaching jobs over the next four years through an “attrition-based approach.” It is expected this will save the province $851 million.

Minister of Education Lisa Thompson has repeatedly stated no teachers would be laid off as a result.

Despite this, school boards across the province have issued lay off notices to teachers.

On April 17, Peel District School Board issued notices to 200 secondary school teachers.

“We are very concerned about our colleagues in Peel. That is the situation we are probably going to be in,” she said.

Sabbagh said the government’s claims that no teacher will lose their job “is not true.”

“Although we haven’t had to lay anybody off, once somebody retires, the Ministry has been very firm that they will not be replaced,” she said.

For example, Sabbagh says if a school only has one person who teaches physics, and they retire, there will be no physics class in that school.

“It will affect the students hugely. Their opportunities to take courses will be hugely diminished – especially in our smaller schools,” Sabbagh noted.

Premier Doug Ford has recently made some strongly worded statements towards teachers unions, issuing a warning to teachers about retaliating to cuts with a strike.

He also threatened to alter the expiration date for upcoming contract negotiations, which are expected to begin later this month.

Sabbagh, who has been teaching for 25 years, says the relationship with the current government is the worst she’s seen.

“I don’t know if we’ve had any government – you’d have to go back to the [Mike Harris] days, that is actively attacking public education so much,” she says.

However, Sabbagh says the Harris government outlined its plans to make cuts in education, but with the current government, “every announcement is a surprise, and more of a shock of how deep their attacks on public education are.”

Sabbagh believes the government’s actions will “decimate” an education system she considers to be “world-class.”

“People come to Ontario to see how we do things, I doubt they will be doing that much longer,” she says.