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One-day strike sends teachers outside as government talks stay cold

'Other than just leave us alone in the system we’ve had that works, maybe a cost of living increase, too,' union rep says outside Barrie North

The snow falling didn't deter one-day strike action from teachers in the province and particularly those in the area represented in Simcoe County.

With an Ontario-wide strike happening today, the teachers have been bundled up outside their schools with picket signs and coffee as early as 7 a.m.

Barrie North Ontario Secondary School Teachers' Federation (OSSTF) branch president Elizabeth Dewey spoke to BarrieToday as she made her way to the front of the school during the protest this morning.

Dewey said class sizes and the provincial government’s desire to increase them is at the heart of the matter as to why teachers are on the sidewalks and not the classroom on Wednesday.

“Last year, we had a funding ratio of one teacher to every 22 students and over this year it crept up to about 23 and a half students, and we’re already seeing timetabling problems,” said Dewey. “Our vulnerable students, in particular, are seeing a disadvantage. Those in ESL (English as a Second Language) or any with mental-health issues need that crucial one-on-one time.

"With an overloaded classroom, that just can’t happen," she added. 

Last week, the OSSTF announced teachers could walk off the job on Dec. 4 so as to increase the pressure during tense labour negotiations with Ontario's Progressive Conservative government.

Education Minister Stephen Lecce said in a statement yesterday that it would be irresponsible and “unfair to keep parents and students in the dark” about whether there would be classes today.

But Dewey reminds government officials that a lot of teachers are also parents themselves.

“We’re here on the line not just as teachers, but as parents,” she said. “I have a nine-year-old who has a special education plan. For me, I am very concerned that as she progresses through school and reaches high school, will she have the support in place she needs to be successful.”

While there may be tension anytime the teachers' contracts are up, the last provincial-wide strike was 22 years ago, in 1997.

Dewey said today was the first day she ever walked a picket line and hopes the government realizes what the teachers are fighting for means a lot to them to do so.

“My hope is that the government will see that we have a good system, we’re not really asking for anything,” said Dewey. “Other than just leave us alone in the system we’ve had that works, maybe a cost of living increase, too.”

Teachers are expected to be back to work Thursday as the union and government continue to seek a solution.

Shawn Gibson

About the Author: Shawn Gibson

Shawn Gibson is a staff writer based in Barrie
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