By Richard Leitner • METROLAND WEST MEDIA GROUP
The Hamilton-Wentworth District School Board will explore alternative options for offering extracurricular activities if teachers continue their boycott to protest the province’s use of Bill 115 to impose contracts on them.
Board chair Tim Simmons said he expects staff to report on potential ways the board can “mitigate the situation” in the next month.
He said a board staff must be on hand for extracurricular sports and other activities for liability reasons.
Both public elementary and secondary teacher unions have urged members to continue to withhold voluntary activities in response to Education Minister Laurel Broten’s move on Jan. 3 to impose two-year contracts that freeze wage and cut sick benefits.
“We’ve asked staff to look at, if this should go on, if there’s any sort of things we can do to mitigate the situation, but at this point we haven’t any specifics,” Simmons said.
“We definitely want what’s best for kids. We understand the situation our employee groups are in now, and so we want to keep those relationships positive as we move forward.
“We’re going to work with everyone to keep a positive experience for our kids in the classroom and in their school experience.”
Chantal Mancini, president of the Ontario Secondary School Teachers’ Federation of Hamilton-Wentworth, said boycotting voluntary activities is “all we have left” after the Ontario Labour Relations Board ruled that a planned one-day walkout at elementary schools on Jan. 11 was an illegal strike.
Secondary teachers had been set to hold a similar walkout on Jan. 16. In Hamilton, they instead planned a joint protest after school with their elementary colleagues outside Liberal MPP Ted McMeekin’s Waterdown constituency office.
“They’ve removed our right to strike,” said Mancini, who hopes a new Liberal premier to be elected at the end of this month will reverse course and allow teachers to bargain contracts.
“It’s a horrible mess and it lies squarely at the feet of the Liberal government, Laurel Broten and (Premier) Dalton McGuinty.”
The labour board issued its ruling against what teacher unions had characterized as a “political protest” at about 4 a.m. last Friday, prompting the Hamilton board to reverse plans to cancel all elementary classes for the day.
By that time, many parents had already made other arrangements and only about 40 per cent of students showed up for class.
Simmons said the board did the best it could under the circumstances and sent out phone messages apologizing to parents afterwards.
“We had to work with the timelines that we had, so we had to rely on the media to get out the message out,” he said.
“It was a difficult day, but we had to make a decision to close the school when we heard there was going to be a protest because we wanted parents to be able to make alternative arrangements.”