By Doug Hallett
Sports teams and other extracurricular activities in local public high schools could be thrown into chaos starting Monday, as a result of an uncoordinated withdrawal of voluntary non-teaching services by teachers.
Local high school teachers, who are alone among Ontario’s public teachers in having ratified a new contract, have been asked by their union to “revisit their commitment” to extracurricular activities, their local president said Tuesday.
This request for teachers to individually decide if they want to stop participating in extracurriculars as a form of political protest was made last week by the Ontario Secondary Schools Teachers’ Federation, said Paul Rawlinson, president of the OSSTF’s local teacher bargaining unit.Since then, high school teachers at the Upper Grand District School Board have been talking about what to do in various forums, including teacher meetings at the school level and informal discussions in lunch rooms, Rawlinson said in an interview.
However, “at the end of the day it has to be an individual decision,” he said, unlike elsewhere in the province where union locals haven’t signed contracts.
In other parts of Ontario, the two unions representing teachers in public elementary and high schools have been ordering their members to stop participating in extracurricular activities. However, the OSSTF can’t do this at the Upper Grand board, because the high school teachers here have signed a new contract and are no longer in a legal strike position.
The OSSTF gave the Upper Grand high school teachers until Dec. 17 to decide what to do about their participation in extracurricular activities.
Asked if teachers’ individual decisions could mean chaos in high school extracurriculars come Monday, Rawlinson said the situation is uncertain and very unusual.
“It will be a little bit of a scattered situation, school to school,” he said.
High school teachers “love extracurriculars, but they hate Bill 115,” Rawlinson said. In terms of deciding what to do come Monday, “it is a balancing between those two emotions.”
An additional uncertainty is that as of Tuesday, Education Minister Laurel Broten hadn’t signed the local contract that was ratified on Nov. 27, he said.
Rawlinson said he had no idea when teachers who stop handling extracurricular activities might start participating again.
Passed by the Liberal government with the support of the Progressive Conservatives in September, Bill 115 largely reflects a two-year deal reached in early July between the province and the Ontario English Catholic Teachers’ Association. It includes a wage freeze, sick-pay cutbacks and other measures, including restrictions on teachers’ right to strike.
Bill 115 gives the province the right to impose contracts if local deals aren’t reached by Dec. 31 or if locally bargained contract agreements aren’t in line with the contents of the bill.
But even if Education Minister Laurel Broten imposes contracts on public school teachers after Dec. 31, she won’t be able to order them to start participating again in extracurricular activities, said Upper Grand school board communications officer Maggie McFadzen. That’s because involvement by teachers in extracurricular activities is voluntary.
So there’s no way of knowing when teacher withdrawals from extracurricular activities might end, McFadzen said in an interview Tuesday.
News emerged this week that at least two Guelph high school sports teams have withdrawn from their leagues until further notice. They are the Centennial Spartans junior girls volleyball and junior boys basketball teams – both coached by long-term occasional teachers, rather than by regular teachers.
Occasional teachers are represented by a separate OSSTF local, which has not reached a deal with the school board.
There could be a lot more cancelled sports teams starting Dec. 17, as well as cancelled clubs and other extracurricular activities at the Upper Grand board, depending what regular high school teachers decide to do.
Up to individuals
“They can’t do anything in concert. They have to decide individually” whether to stop coaching teams and running clubs, McFadzen said.
Regular high school teachers started limited work-to-rule strike action on Nov. 10, but they ended it a week later after the tentative contract deal was reached with the Upper Grand school board.
The OSSTF’s work-to-rule action didn’t initially affect teacher involvement in extracurricular activities.
By Doug Hallett