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With teachers' work-to-rule stance, director of education has power to step in for safety reasons

By Roberta Bell, Orillia Packet & Times

(QMI Agency file photo)

(QMI Agency file photo)

If things get out of hand at local secondary schools as a result of teachers’ work-to-rule, the director of education has the power to step in and close them down.

The Simcoe County District School Board passed a motion recently at a special meeting supporting the director if she feels the need to shut down one or more schools if it’s deemed unsafe for students to be in them.

“It’s a proactive approach to what may take place next week,” said Jodi Lloyd, trustee for Severn, Ramara and Tay townships. “I think we have to recognize that we are responsible for ensuring student safety and we charge the director with managing that.”

The board’s secondary school teachers are in a work-to-rule position, suggesting they do the minimum required by their contracts as of Monday, Nov. 19, in response to the Bill 115.

They will not be required to attend meetings not within regular school hours, including open houses, parent interviews and professional development sessions, nor will they be asked to provide supervision outside of the classroom, meaning hallways and cafeterias could go unmonitored.

A letter went home to parents Nov. 15 outlining the situation.

“We’ll still be in the classroom teaching and at this moment in time,” said Ian Tudor, president of the local Ontario Secondary School Teachers Federation (OSSTF) bargaining unit. “If a teacher or a member wants to volunteer to do extra-curriculars, they certainly are welcome to continue that.

“Our teachers are professionals,” he added. “They’re caring adults. They’re in the building. They certainly will do their due diligence and not ignore any safety issues.”

The local union held a strike vote three weeks ago, and its members are in a position to legally walk off the job next week, said Tudor, noting the likelihood of that happening is ultimately dependent on negotiations at the provincial level.

The OSSTF and met with officials from the province last met on the weekend.

“We were working toward some sort of deal that could actually be incorporated into the local collective agreements,” OSSTF vice-president Paul Elliott said, noting as morning approached on Nov. 12, a settlement had still not been reached.

(OSSTF/FEESO reached tentative teacher bargaining unit agreements with the Upper Grand District School Board and the York Region District School Board. These two agreements will be officially submitted to the Minister of Education today (Monday, Nov. 19) for her review. They must now wait for the minister's decisions as to whether these agreements meet the parameters the government outlined in Bill 115. )

“The boards and the government need to understand we’re serious about this,” Elliott said. “There are settlements and there are ways to make this work that are beneficial both to the boards and for us, too.”

While the issue is between the union and the province, “unfortunately, it’s playing out at the local level,” Lloyd said, noting the Simcoe County public board and local OSSTF bargaining unit have a long-standing and strong working relationship.

The impact of work-to-rule is being felt differently in schools and boards across the province, said board chairman Robert North, who says one of the biggest issues right now is consistency.

“I’m just hoping that something can be worked out because we find ourselves in a very strange place with the province right now and the prorogation certainly isn’t helping,” he said, noting while the ministries continue to function, it’s been difficult since the premier stepped down last month.

“All boards find themselves in a strange place right now,” he said, noting other boards across the province are already dealing with the impact of teachers in a work-to-rule position.

“They’re starting to experience, perhaps, incidents, where there isn’t as much supervision in their schools,” North said.

“It’s very important, if we were to take any action where our school was closed or our teachers were locked out, to send the message that the board is aware of this and certainly it has been talked about,” he said, noting in order to convene a meeting, at least 24 hours notice is needed, which could present problems if the situation is urgent.

“We’re hoping that it doesn’t get to that point, but the reality is it could,” Lloyd said.


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