Journalist | Phnom Penh, Cambodia
Ken Coran, president of the Ontario Secondary School Teachers Federation, speaks during a press conference in Toronto on Thursday August 30, 2012 held by the Canadian Union of Public Employees to voice their opposition to Liberal Bill 115, which effects Ontario education workers rights to collective bargaining. // THE CANADIAN PRESS/Aaron Vincent Elkaim
Ken Coran, president of the Ontario Secondary School Teachers Federation, speaks during a press conference in Toronto on Thursday August 30, 2012. // THE CANADIAN PRESS/Aaron Vincent Elkaim

By Alex Consiglio

Ontario high school teachers are planning to “up the heat” in negotiations with the government by taking job action, including not talking to parents or administering standardized tests.

Ken Coran, president of the Ontario Secondary School Teachers’ Federation, said Friday he’s told some 60,000 OSSTF members, who are in a legal strike position, also to cease attending staff meetings by Nov. 7.

“We’re fed up and want there to be serious talks” said Coran.

“We’ve got solutions and the government has to take ownership of new ideas.”

The next standardized EQAO tests for high school students begin in January, when Grade 9 students will be tested on mathematics. That’s followed by literacy tests in April for Grade 10 students.

Students must pass the Grade 10 literacy test in order to graduate.

The job action also instructs teachers not to participate in activities involved in the standardized tests, which may include in-class preparation.

“It’s designed not to impact students’ learning, ” said Coran, explaining he doesn’t see the tests as part of the defined curriculum. Coran suggested supervisors can gather students in school cafeterias and administer the EQAO tests there themselves.

Coran said it hadn’t been discussed yet whether in-class EQAO preparation would be affected.

Education Minister Laurel Broten responded to the aggressive move by the OSSTF by email Friday.

“It is very concerning to me to see that OSSTF is prepared to take these strike actions, ” said Broten. “We need all of our partners in education to work with us to find solutions that put the success of our students – including EQAO and literacy tests – first.”

Broten added the Putting Students First Act, a new anti-strike law that cuts benefits and freezes the wages of senior teachers, allows the government to intervene through regulation, not legislation, if teachers take such action.

“At this point, we are monitoring closely to see how local unions operationalize job actions and will assess options, ” said Broten.

Coran scoffed at Broten’s suggestion that teachers can be regulated through the Act to resume such duties.

“If (the Act’s) even legal, ” quipped Coran, whose union is among three others that claims it infringes on the Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

The Canadian Union of Public Employees of Ontario, the Ontario Public Service Employees Union, the OSSTF and the Elementary Teachers’ Federation of Ontario (ETFO) have launched a legal challenge against the Act.

ETFO president Sam Hammond has also taken job action and advised some 76,000 elementary teachers to write only the bare minimum on report cards.

Broten met with Hammond earlier this week to see if he would rescind the advice, but he wouldn’t back down. Hammond could not be reached for comment Friday.

Coran said the OSSTF job action will also see teachers stop communicating with parents outside of the regular school day, putting an end to parent-teacher nights.

Local bargaining units may also instruct teachers to stop submitting student attendance or participating in curriculum or course writing.

Coran added the job action wouldn’t affect extracurricular activities, such as sports teams, where teachers have been instructed to make an individual choice whether to continue or not.

Rattled by the unions’ tough stance, the Liberals are trying to mend fences with the labour groups whose financial and organizational support helped get them re-elected over the past nine years.

Premier Dalton McGuinty bought time for the Liberals to repair that relationship when he prorogued the legislature last week to allow for a “cooling off period” that would give them time to negotiate.

Coran said it’s time “for the volume to be turned up” in the negotiations, which continue until Dec. 31.

“It just blows my mind that the government can’t realize there’s more than one way to solve a problem, ” said Coran. “It’s what we teach our students and maybe it’s time for the government to practise higher order thinking.”

Originally published in The Toronto Star.
With files from The Canadian Press