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Wasaga Beach teachers going back to work Friday: board

Morgan Ian Adams, QMI Agency

WASAGA BEACH - Teachers at a Wasaga Beach elementary school who walked off the job Thursday, claiming they are working in unsafe conditions, are scheduled to be back in class on Friday.

On Thursday morning, 27 teachers at Worsley Elementary School retreated to the staff room rather than heading to class, as board and union officials worked to resolve a situation the president of the local teachers' federation claimed has been building for two years.

Janet Bigham, head of the Simcoe County Elementary Teachers' Federation, said she has been involved with safety issues at the school the last couple of years, but matters have reached a head in the last several weeks.

"We've tried to deal with it... (But) there have been several situations that have arisen that have led teachers to believe the school is unsafe," she said.

She said the board had been given a 'head's up' that there was the potential for a work refusal under the Occupational Health and Safety Act and that the workers need a competent supervisor in place.

"The teachers' concerns are that they are safe; if they're safe, the children are safe," she said.

Janis Medysky, associate director of education with the Simcoe County District School Board, met with parents early in the day, and the head of the local teachers' union.

She met with the teachers on Thursday afternoon, and a resolution was reached regarding the concerns.

The board said staff will be performing their regular assigned duties Friday.

Earlier Thursday, Medysky indicated the union had not identified any specific concerns previous to the walkout, only in general.

The students remained in class most of the morning and administrators from other schools in the county were brought in to help out.

That didn't seem to be good enough for parents, who started to arrive mid-morning to collect their children. It appeared most of the students had been pulled out of class by the noon hour, though a small knot of parents remained in the school's lobby in hopes of speaking with board representatives.

"We're 110% behind the teachers, but nobody seems to be listening," said Sharon Cameron, who has a child in Grade 6 at Worsley.

The parents voiced a litany of concerns, from children being bullied, to teachers being unable to maintain control in the classrooms.

Cameron said her son has been involved in a number of "difficult situations," and she has tried to address the issue with school officials "over and over again, and things are still as bad as they were."

Bigham said several students were involved in a fight in the schoolyard a couple of weeks ago, and efforts by teachers to bring order were ignored. She said several teachers wanted to call police, but were deterred by the principal.

Marianne McAuley said she joined the school's parent council several years ago because of her concerns.

"I thought if I got on the council I could make a difference," said McAuley, who also served a stint as chair of the parent council. "I've gone to the superintendents on several issues of children's safety, and never received a reply."

McAuley says that just before Christmas, she was not asked back to volunteer at the school. She says it was because she voiced some concerns.

"I've spoken to a lot of parents over the years, and our voices seem to mean nothing.

Bigham also accused the board and the principal of not having a plan in place to deal with "unsafe situations," and not informing staff of the safety plan.

In regards to the union's claim about the school's principal, Medysky said: "The union isn't in a position to determine who is competent and who isn't. That's the role of the supervisory officer."

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