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The Ford government and the Ontario's public high school teachers have signed a new three-year contract after months of fighting and protests over funding for education and the amount of students allowed per classroom, according to CTV News.
In May, the new contract will be put to a vote of ratification, according to the Ontario Secondary School Teachers’ Federation.
Public relations between the Ford administration and the Ontario Secondary School Teachers’ Federation (OSSTF) had been contentious for some time, dating back to September of 2019. Province-wide strikes had been held numerous times between December and February by all four of the publicly funded school boards. It was a growing tension that was only thrown off track by the COVID-19 pandemic in March which resulted in all four schools boards being closed down in order to implement social distancing.
Upon the closure, schools were scheduled to reopen on May 4, however that date has since been extended by Premier Doug Ford. The new return date has yet to be determined.
Harvey Bishof, President of the Ontario Secondary School Teachers’ Federation said they were well aware that their negotiations would have to take a back seat to these, "extraordinary times."
Bishof noted the impact of COVID-19 on their negotiations and new contract during a video conference. “While this tentative agreement does not satisfy all of our concerns, we recognize the current environment we are in and the need for students to have stability once this emergency is over,” said Bischof.
The union said it was able to halt the provincial government on some of their more "egregious proposals," such as bringing in mandatory e-learning and increased class sizes.
Ford's government backed down on their push to have the student-to-teacher ratio increased from 23:1 to 28:1 and dropped the mandatory e-learning requirements from four obligatory courses down to two. Parents also have the option to meet with their student's guidance counselor should they want their child to opt out of the online classes.
The government did manage to get the union to agree with their compensation request of one percent per year for the life of the contract. Through legislation, the Ontario government was able to impose this contract onto employees of the public sector.
All four education sector unions plan to challenge Bill 124 in court however, also known as the Protecting a Sustainable Public Sector for Future Generations Act, on the grounds that it's unconstitutional.
Education Minister Stephen Lecce stressed that their government has always been trying to reach a deal that will be beneficial for the priorities of the students and their parents, in a statement he released on Monday.
“During this entire process, our aim was to ensure our young people receive the best education we can offer, so they can develop the skills they need to succeed in the classroom and in the jobs of the future,” reads the statement.
“We will remain focused on the government’s dual priority of keeping students safe while ensuring the continuity of education. Moreover, we remain determined to continuously strengthen teacher-led learning and virtual learning for the benefit of our students, and we continue to look to our educators to rise to the challenge and deliver quality education to every child, wherever they may live.”