CUPE strike: Ontario to make plans for distance education

Ontario’s Ministry of Education is asking school boards to focus on distance learning next week if education workers strike Monday, according to a report obtained by CTV News Toronto.

“If the school board determines that it cannot ensure the healthy and safe operation of schools in person, the school board must support students in the rapid transition to remote learning,” the memo, titled Labor Disruptions – Continued Contingency Planning, reads.

The Canadian Union of Public Employees (CUPE) announced Wednesday that it has made the commitment five days notice to strike after recovery negotiations broke down.

The union said the two sides recently agreed to a 3.59 percent wage increase, but CUPE wants more staff and early childhood educators in every kindergarten classroom.

To make the transition to distance education as smooth as possible, the ministry is asking school boards to take “immediate steps” to distribute devices and mobile WIFI to students who need it.

“We demand that we minimize disruption to students, parents and legal representatives should CUPE fail to reach an agreement and proceed with strike action.”

The Department for Education said school boards could provide one-to-one tutoring, but only if they could ensure “student safety and continuity”. If a school plans to change its operating plans, the release states that students and parents must be notified by noon the day before.

Many already school boards across the province have announced they plan to close on Monday if there is a strike because they cannot ensure their institutions remain safe and clean without support staff.

During this transition, the ministry says “special attention” should be given to “our most vulnerable children and children with special educational needs”.

This includes ensuring that students who rely on breakfast programs in Ontario have access to nutritious food and continued personalized learning for students with special educational needs who are unable to learn remotely.

AT THE NEGOTIATION TABLE

The Ontario government and CUPE will spend the weekend at the negotiating table. The union said on Thursday afternoon that it “urged the government to come back with a serious intention of reaching a fair deal for students, families and workers”.

“Both parties have agreed to set a date for Sunday evening at 5pm so that we can give parents and carers as much information as possible. We will provide further updates once we have them,” their statement read.

Sunday’s deadline is a “target,” but that doesn’t necessarily mean negotiations will end.

While there appears to be little movement in the negotiations, Education Minister Stephen Lecce said he hopes both sides will move forward.

“We really hope that these negotiations will continue. We expect conversations today and in the coming days,” Lecce said in an interview with CP24 Breakfast on Thursday morning. “You know, at the end of the day, regardless of the strike announcement, we can still have productive conversations at the table and that’s what I’m trying to do.”

Workers and the government returned to the table after a brief strike earlier this month. The strike ended when the Ford government agreed to repeal legislation that he forbade the workers to strike and used the notwithstanding clause to head off any potential constitutional challenges to their legislation.

The Ford government’s move sparked outrage from labor groups and even prompted Prime Minister Justin Trudeau to mark this step as inappropriate.

“From the beginning, this negotiation was about chronically low wages for these workers, but also about services in the schools,” CUPE Ontario president Fred Hahn told CP24 on Thursday.

He said the jobs the union is fighting for must be there “so students have the support they need to succeed.”

Hahn said the talks broke down again because “it’s hard to negotiate with yourself.”

“You know, the government basically said this is it, this is all we have. And you know, there was a move — they had to move because of the outpouring of support that was there because of their massive overreach with Bill 28, invoking the dissent clause,” Hahn said.

“All the crisis that happened a few weeks ago was unnecessary, just as what is happening now is unnecessary. Resources are available. Says the Financial Responsibility Officer is a budget surplusThere are ways that the government could make these investments and really help the schools that really help our children.”

Lecce said the government had done what was asked of it by repealing the law and agreeing to better wages, and he was disappointed the union was striking again.

Lecce also said he believed compensation remained a “fundamental fault line” in the negotiations, despite CUPE’s insistence that it was no longer a major issue.

“We want to get kids on the right track and we want to get them supported to catch up, but it all starts with them being in school,” he said. “And that’s why I think we’re very disappointed by the union’s decision to go ahead with the strike just a few weeks after the last one.”

Both sides lined up to fight for children in the labor dispute, but parents and children remained in the middle.

With files from Siobhan Morris of CTV News Toronto.

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