Ontario parents race to find daycare ahead of planned walkout by education workers

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TORONTO — Some families in Ontario are scrambling to come up with alternative child care plans after several school boards announced they would be closing schools on Friday in response to a planned walkout by education workers.

The Toronto District School Board – Canada’s largest school district – said Monday evening that it had “no choice” but to close for in-person learning because it cannot guarantee safety and the cleanliness of the school without the services of these employees, including librarians, custodians and early childhood educators.

Riaz Ahmed, the father of a first-grader and a kindergarten student on the council, said planned school closures complicated his plans for Friday because he and his wife are working parents.

“It’s going to be tricky,” he said outside Thorncliffe Park Public School on Tuesday morning, after dropping off his children. “We are still planning and still trying to find a way.”

The Ontario government on Monday introduced a bill to force education workers into a contract with the Canadian Union of Public Employees and avert a strike that was due to start on Friday.

CUPE says its 55,000 education worker members will walk off the job in a province-wide protest on Friday despite the legislation, which will use the notwithstanding clause to keep the eventual law in place if challenged. constitutional.

Danyaal Raza said he and his partner are still working on childcare plans for his six-year-old, who is attending the first year of a TDSB school, as they seek to adjust work schedules or ask grandparents for help.

He said the walkout was “undoubtedly going to cause short-term disruption and short-term frustration”, but he said he supported the right of education workers to strike and negotiate a deal. .

“I was quite shocked to see that not only was this not going to happen, but the provincial government was using the notwithstanding clause to override that right,” said Raza, a family physician.

The TDSB said board-run and third-party child care centers inside schools can remain open on Friday, although that decision is up to individual operators. Some said they would close.

Catholic boards in Toronto and Hamilton announced they would be closing schools, while Catholic boards in Halton and Ottawa, as well as the Thames Valley District School Board in London, Ont., said they would move to distance learning.

Ottawa Catholic School Board parent Traci Clarke said she was fully prepared to keep her 19-year-old son, who is on the autism spectrum, at home even if it would pose challenges.

Her son needs constant attention from teacher aides in his special education program who are able to help him with his learning and social needs. They made a difference in her high school experience, she said.

“If it hadn’t been for teaching assistants, he never would have finished high school. He would never go through the period of the school system,” Clarke said.

In the long term, Clarke said she hopes the pressure measures will prove beneficial to CUPE members and the education system.

“The teaching assistants…they burn out. There aren’t enough when we have so many needy students,” Clarke said.

Syed Zadai, the father of a Grade 5 student in Toronto, has pointed the finger at the provincial government for school closures.

“They have every right to do that,” he said of the planned walkout. “And (the) government should listen to them instead of passing laws (against them).”

“I support the school staff,” he said, adding that the government “needs to negotiate” a fair deal with education workers.

The government had offered increases of 2% a year for workers earning less than $40,000 and 1.25% for everyone else, but Education Minister Stephen Lecce said the new four-year deal imposed would give 2.5% annual increases to workers earning less than $43,000 and 1.5% increase for everyone else.

CUPE said its workers, who earn an average of $39,000 a year, are generally the lowest paid in schools and it is demanding annual wage increases of 11.7%.

More than 96 per cent of CUPE education worker members voted in favor of a strike.

Meanwhile, some school boards across the province are either staying open or taking a wait-and-see approach.

The Halton District School Board, Hamilton-Wentworth District School Board and Upper Grand District School Board in Guelph, Ont., said schools would remain open.

Public and Catholic school boards in Peel do not have detailed plans, saying they remain “hopeful that a resolution” can be found “in the current impasse in negotiations”. York Public and Catholic Councils also did not say whether schools would be open.

The Ottawa and Waterloo Region public councils said the planned work measures would not affect their operations since employees were represented by different unions.

– With files from Cindy Tran in Ottawa.

This report from The Canadian Press was first published on November 1, 2022.

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