It’s safe to say that this year in education in Ontario will be less disruptive than 2012-13. But that’s not saying much. After all, all that means is avoiding any days when teachers refuse to come to work.
In September, 2012, years of education sector peace came to an end when both the elementary and secondary unions representing non-Catholic teachers in Ontario announced they would work to rule. They didn’t necessarily call it that, per se, and they didn’t necessarily (depending on the school board) implement the labour action immediately, but that’s eventually what it turned out to be. To lesser or greater degrees (again, depending on the school board), extra-curricular athletics and clubs were curtailed, off-site excursions cancelled, and communications with parents limited to a minimum.
Here in the Avon Maitland board, there was one day when elementary teachers walked the picket lines.
It wasn’t a pleasant year to be a parent. And it was probably equally frustrating for students.
As unlikely as it is that these scenes will be repeated in 2013-14, however, the unrest has not disappeared. It’s not like the last time teachers walked off the job, when they returned to a new government — headed by someone who eventually became known for a time as “The Education Premier” — to replace the hated Mike Harris Conservatives.
This time around, teachers’ unions still have to contend with the austerity being preached over the past few years by the ruling Liberals. The government has a former Education Minister (Kathleen Wynne) who has confirmed the cost-cutting priority as Premier, a just-stepped-aside teachers’ union leader (Ken Coran) as a failed London byelection candidate who quite possibly is still involved as an adviser, and a struggling Conservative party representing the official Opposition.
In short, other than the unions themselves, the government is not likely to hear a lot of voices pressuring for extending its resources in Education.
The new leader of the Ontario Secondary School Teachers’ Federation — Coran’s replacement — just recently rattled his sabre regarding the failure, so far, of many school boards to sign onto the “Memorandum of Understanding” that effectively ended last year’s unrest. The unions made significant concessions, he argued, yet the boards haven’t yet done their part.
Deep down, we know our kids will be safe on their way to school, thanks to skillful bus drivers, careful motorists, and caring teachers. Likewise, deep down, we know those teachers will be on the job through to June.
But still, we worry. Perhaps not without cause.