Ontario’s high school teachers have voted in favour of a three-year deal reached last month with the province.
Support staff represented by the Ontario Secondary School Teachers’ Federation also approved their contract, the union said Saturday.
While the two deals provide more than $ 85 million in a “support for students” fund that will allow more special education staff to be hired, the agreements also include the most contentious issues: larger classes and two mandatory online credits for teens.
“Members recognize these deals are imperfect but provide needed stability in these trying times,” union president said Harvey Bischof in a written statement. “While we were able to fend off some of the Ford government’s most egregious attacks on education, members will not forget this government’s efforts to undermine publicly funded education in Ontario.”
Bischof said that “without our efforts, things would have been much worse.” However, he added, “larger classes, mandatory e-learning, and reduced funding for student supports will still be a reality in the province’s schools next September.”
The union did not release specifics, but sources said the OSSTF teacher vote — at under 80 per cent — was lower than other unions, which saw approval rates above 90 per cent.
OSSTF support staff approved their deal by about 90 per cent, sources said.
The 60,000-member OSSTF, province and school boards announced the tentative agreement in April, making it the last of the education unions to do so — although the union was also the last to be called back to the bargaining table by a provincial mediator.
It provides a one per cent pay increase each year and a four per cent benefits boost, sets average class size at 23 students — up from last year’s 22 — and also includes two mandatory online courses for all high school students.
The online classes, however, have an easy opt-out policy.
The provincial government had initially wanted to increase average class size to 28, resulting in thousands of lost teaching positions and tens of thousands fewer course options and classes for teens. It had also proposed four mandatory e-learning credits, which is unheard of in North America.
Even at two required online courses, Ontario is an outlier, given only a handful of jurisdictions mandate or strongly recommend one.
Public polling and student surveys indicated little support in the province for bigger classes or online learning.
The union, Bischof added, “will continue the fight to reverse these destructive policies.”
Prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, negotiations with the teachers’ unions had led to job action, including bare-bones report cards and rotating strikes. The OSSTF deal was reached after the school shutdown and negotiated electronically because of social distancing rules.
The federation represents permanent and occasional teachers, educational assistants, early childhood educators, school psychologists, speech-language pathologist and social workers.
The Ontario English Catholic Teachers’ Association recently ratified a similar deal, as did the Elementary Teachers’ Federation of Ontario and the AEFO, which represents the province’s French-board teachers.
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The elementary and Catholic teachers’ unions negotiated about $ 120 million in total to hire more special education teachers.
The French teachers’ union also negotiated the creation of a working group to boost the number of Francophone educators.