All of Simcoe County’s public and Catholic schools will close Monday if the province and the union representing education workers fail to reach an agreement by Sunday afternoon.
The Canadian Union of Public Employees (CUPE), representing 55,000 education workers in Ontario, has said both sides have agreed to a deadline of 5 p.m. Sunday.
“In the Simcoe County District School Board (SCDSB), CUPE represents custodial and maintenance staff,” the board stated in a post on its website. “Should CUPE proceed with proposed strike action in the form of a full withdrawal of service, all SCDSB schools will be closed to all students effective Monday, Nov. 21. Students will receive assigned coursework through the virtual learning platform established by their teacher.”
The situation is similar at the Simcoe Muskoka Catholic District School Board (SMCDSB).
“If strike action does proceed, we can not safely operate our schools, which means that schools will be closed for all in-person student learning on Monday, Nov. 21,” the board noted on its website. “Before- and after-school programs, school transportation services and community use of schools will also be cancelled, should a strike occur. Full-day in-school child-care centres will be open at the discretion of the operator.”
Jodi Lloyd, SCDSB trustee for Orillia, Ramara and Severn, and chair of the board during its last term, is hopeful an agreement will be reached.
“There’s been a commitment to negotiate all weekend,” she said. “We’re still very hopeful there will be a resolution to this and a strike does not take place on Monday.”
The situation puts schools in a precarious position not long after a brief strike earlier this month ended with optimism when the province agreed to repeal legislation that imposed a contract and made strike action by the workers illegal.
“We were very hopeful (at that time), but at this point in time, there is the potential we will be in a strike position Monday,” Lloyd said.
“Any disruption like this is difficult for students, difficult for families. We will do everything possible, as a board, to have our students in schools.”
Travis Dafoe is a Barrie father of six.
His children range in ages from 17 to six and attend different schools, with one attending Bradford District High School, while others attend Barrie North Collegiate, Hillcrest Public School and two schools in Newmarket.
“All the kids will be home. It’s kind of a mixed feeling for us because of all their ages,” said Dafoe. “We support CUPE in their strike. We think it’s important that it’s fair collective bargaining.
“It’s unfortunate that it affects the kids, but that’s not their fault,” he added.
Dafoe said he considers himself one of the lucky ones, as he and his wife are both able to work from home and have flexibility so they won’t require child care or the need to make arrangements to have someone watch their kids while they’re at work should education workers need to strike.
However, he says how his kids have adapted to e-learning has varied.
“Because of COVID, our kids have got used to the work-from-home routine. Half are completely comfortable doing the work from home. The oldest ones want to go to school and see their friends,” said Dafoe. “For my middle two, it’s going to be a disaster.
“It’s kind of a mixed bag of thoughts for us,” he said.
— With files from Jessica Owen