Last March, the Ford government announced significant changes to high school education programs across the province, causing a stir among educators and parents alike.
Citing a goal of modernizing classrooms, the Tories’ original plan called for, among other things, an increase in average class size to 28 and a new requirement that students take four online courses in order to graduate.
These changes proved unpopular, leading to more than 100,000 students walking out of class in protest in April of last year.
Two days later, 10,000 people gathered at another protest at Queen’s Park. These issues were part of the concerns that Ontario teachers brought with them to the table, as their unions and the province have been attempting to negotiate a new contract since August.
The dispute between teachers and the province led to weeks of rotating teacher strikes across the province. Now, nearly a year after the original proposals, the government has reneged on its plans.
Earlier this month, Stephen Lecce, Education Minister, announced a new proposal under which average class sizes would only increase from the current average of 22.9 to 23.
Furthermore, parents will be able to opt their children out of the online-learning requirement, effectively rendering online courses optional once again. In a statement, Lecce said, “I am asking the teachers’ union to return to the table, in light of this reasonable offer, to reach the agreement parents want, and students deserve.”
These concessions are the latest attempt by the Ford government to avoid further strike action and reach a long overdue deal with teachers, as parents continue to tire of scrambling to find last-minute arrangements for their children during the rotating strikes.
The government is extending this olive branch to teachers in a bid to get them to return the favour by conceding to legislation that caps public-sector pay increase to one per cent and backing down on proposed changes to seniority hiring requirements.
The incoming leader of the Ontario Liberal Party, Steven Del Duca, commented, “the Ford government has finally backed down on increased class sizes and mandatory online education.
But let’s face it, this entire mess could have been avoided if the Ford government truly valued public education.”
This is certainly not the end of these negotiations, and it remains to be seen if the unions will take the government’s new offer. The increasing severity of the global COVID-19 pandemic appears to have put the dispute between the teachers and province on an indefinite hold.
The Ford government initially announced public school closures until Apr. 5, and is now telling parents to prepare for an extension to that initial date. The Ontario Secondary School Teachers’ Federation has ended all rotating strikes and job action “out of an abundance of caution.”
The government and the unions have no scheduled meetings for the foreseeable future.