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A decision by elementary teachers to stage a one-day political protest on Friday has forced Lakehead Public Schools to close all of its elementary schools for a day.
Director of Education Cathi Semieniuk on Wednesday said the decision caught the board by surprise and left them with little choice but to keep students at home.
“We were not expecting we would receive that notification today,” Siemeniuk said.
The decision was made to protect students.
“That’s why we’ve closed our schools on Friday. The fallout politically, it’s a political protest. This is not against the Lakehead District School Board, so I think we’ll be watching the fallout as well.”
Siemieniuk said she hopes this isn’t the start of a trend for teachers, who aren’t in a legal strike position.
“I’m hopeful that it will not. I still believe that teachers have the best interest of their students at heart and I think that’s what we all want to get back to, is teaching students in the classroom and doing the best possible job we can do,” she said.
Premier Dalton McGuinty called it an "illegal strike" and plans to file a cease-and-desist motion with the Ontario Labour Relations Board to prevent it from happening.
“I want to be as clear as I can. With contracts now in place, teachers are no longer in a legal strike position,” McGuinty told reporters Wednesday at a Queen's Park news conference.
“Strikes before the holidays were disappointing and they were a real inconvenience to parents but they were legal, A strike on Friday would be an illegal strike and I know teachers are law-abiding. I know they don’t want to break the law and I am urging them not to.”
The one-day protest is the teachers’ way of speaking out against Education Minister Laurel Broten’s decision to invoke Bill 115, which effectively removed the collective bargaining rights of Ontario elementary and secondary school educators.
“The minister made a deliberate and provocative choice to wipe out the democratic rights of tens of thousands of educators rather than work towards a respectful solution," said Sam Hammond, president of the Elementary Teachers' Federation of Ontario in a release.
"She could have taken our olive branch and waited for a new leader to try and find solutions, but she chose not to.
"Our members are standing up to say that democratic values must trump party politics in this province. What happened to educators must not happen to any other Ontarian. The stain of Bill 115, enacted four months ago this Friday, serves as a permanent reminder of that."
Elementary teachers aren't alone.
Following union meetings in Toronto on Wednesday, the Ontario Secondary School Teachers Federation announced their members intend to stage a similar one-day protest, walking off the job on Wednesday, Jan. 16. High school teachers have also determined to stick to their decision to withhold volunteer services for extra-curricular activities until the province agrees to repeal Bill 115 and restore collective bargaining rights taken away under the legislation.
Education Minister Laurel Broten has already promised to repeal the bill, but only after imposing a contact that reduces teacher sick days from 20 to 10, ends the ability to bank sick days and freezes salaries for two years.
In a release, OSSTF president Ken Coran said the union is willing to meet with Broten at any time to discuss their terms, or meet with McGuinty to talk about changes in approach to bargaining if Broten is unwilling to waver from her stance. Coran said McGuinty may have opened the door a crack in that direction.
"The premier's statements late this afternoon finally acknowledge that the Ontario Labour Relations Board and the Ontario Labour Relations Act are the appropriate avenues for dealing with labour disputes and collective bargaining issues. We hope his government will follow this up with the appropriate meetings to resolve the current labour situation."
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