Nigel Barriffe misses his extracurriculars just as much as his students do – from helping out with the Greenholme Jambalaya Band, to hosting lunchtime tutoring sessions, to coaching his school’s volleyball and cross-country teams.
The Greenholme Junior School special education teacher and community activist is helping to organize a teacher’s rally outside Etobicoke North MPP Shafiq Qaadri’s office this Friday not only to protest against Bill 115, but also to let local parents know that recent strike and work-to-rule action at Ontario schools is about more than just a wage freeze – it’s about collective bargaining rights.
“I think the number one issue is that we (teachers) just want the collective right to bargain and that, under Bill 115, has been repealed and there hasn’t been a fair bargaining process that’s guaranteed under the Charter of Rights,” he said, noting that teachers have been left with no other option to have their voices heard but to launch job action.
“Definitely the strike has a disproportionate effect on students, but I think what’s most important for parents to understand is we, too, want to make sure we have smaller class sizes; we want to make sure that we have more relevant curriculum that excites the students; we definitely want to make sure that there’s more resources for our special education students; and we want to make sure that equity and inclusion are infused throughout the system.”
Bill 115, also known as the Putting Students First Act, requires all school boards, teachers and support staff to negotiate local agreements “consistent with the government’s fiscal and policy priorities” by Dec. 31.
Demands on teachers include: zero per cent salary increases over the next two years; that all teachers, principals and vice-principals take three unpaid leave days on designated professional development days in 2013-14; elimination of the banked sick days that the Ministry of Education said was responsible for a $1.7 billion liability for school boards; and a restructured short-term sick leave plan that would include up to 10 sick days at full pay, and 120 days at reduced pay.
“In these challenging economic times, the government had a choice to increase pay and benefits for teachers or to spend on other important investments like full-day kindergarten, small class sizes, and preserving 20,000 teaching and support staff positions,” reads a statement on the Ministry of Education’s website, referring to Ontario’s current $15 billion deficit.
“The government chose to put our students and our education system first and to put education on a more sustainable pathway. As a result, full-day kindergarten will continue to roll out, smaller class sizes will remain in place and teaching and support staff jobs will be protected.”
With their contracts running out this month, public elementary teachers across Ontario are now legally able to begin work-to-rule campaigns in response to what they call the repeal of their collective bargaining rights.
On Monday, the Elementary Teachers’ Federation of Ontario – the union representing 76,000 teachers across the province – launched a series of one-day teachers’ strikes at school boards across Ontario. It was a move Premier Dalton McGuinty panned as disruptive of a nine-year stretch of relative labour peace.
“It’s regrettable that students miss any time learning, and it’s unfortunate that families will need to make alternate arrangements,” he said in a statement released Monday. “While inconvenient, these one-day legal strike actions do not warrant the intervention of the government and are a small price to pay to protect full-day kindergarten, smaller class sizes and 10,000 teaching jobs.”
The rotating one-day strikes have not yet reached the Toronto District School Board. While Barriffe and his fellow Rexdale area teachers and educational assistants stand strong behind recent job action as a necessary evil, they also know the toll it’s taken on their students, many of whom are underprivileged.
They hope Friday’s rally will help bring the situation to a final and fair resolution for all, so they can get back to doing what they love best – helping their students learn and grow.
“Even though these extracurricular things are volunteer, it’s one of the big reasons I got into teaching in the first place, because I know that when we do these things outside of the classroom, we make deeper connections with the children and it has a more positive effect on their achievement inside the classroom,” Barriffe said, noting that the lack of extracurriculars this year has been especially hard on the students at Greenholme, many of whom come from disadvantaged backgrounds. “The school represents the only opportunity for families to be able to take advantage of extracurriculars. It’s not like in other parts of the city where those students are going to be able to go to soccer and baseball and all those other types of things with their private clubs. In Rexdale and Etobicoke North, the kids are very much reliant on teachers volunteering to do those types of activities with them after school.”
Barriffe said he hopes the rally, which will take place on Friday at 4 p.m. outside Liberal MPP Shafiq Qaadri’s 823 Albion Rd. office, will help spread two messages: “Our number one message is repeal Bill 115 – let’s negotiate in a fair way.
But we also want families in the community to know that we don’t like this happening, either.
“At the end of all this, I hope we can build a strong education system. We’re number three in the world, but there’s certainly gaps we can help to build. I think we should be investing in education and see it as an investment in our future, not just a budget line...Having a strong, publicly funded education system is not only good for Etobicoke North, but it’s good for our country.”