Colin Matthew, district 15 leader for the Ontario Secondary School Teachers Federation (OSSTF), doesn’t believe the local school board’s immediate cancellation of extracurricular activities makes any sense.
The response recently by the Trillium Lakelands District School Board (TLDSB) leaves him with more questions than answers. While other boards are facing the same kind of sanctions, only TLDSB chose to end extracurriculars immediately. The rest of the boards are letting the students finish their current sports cycles, and other activities up until March Break where the decision would then be reassessed.
Back in the late 1990s and early 2000s, when Conservative Premier Mike Harris was in power, the high school teachers became obligated to use 15 of their prep periods per year to cover other teachers in the school who had appointments or emergencies. This is known as on-call coverage.
Previously, if an emergency came up a supply teacher would be called to cover this time. Essentially, this created a situation in which existing teachers offered free supply teaching. The teachers on strike are no longer offering their free 15 periods and this is what the board is referencing as their reason to immediately cut extracurriculars, citing a lack of on-call and supply teachers as the reason.
However, this doesn’t make sense according to Matthew, because there are over 120 supply teachers on the list right now. Of these, 72 full-time equivalents are ready to work on any given day. The balance of supply teachers is currently being used as long-term occasional teachers.
“How can the board say that there isn’t enough staff to cover during strike action?” Matthew asks.
The local union leader doesn’t understand how 72 available supply teachers aren’t enough when daily absences of about 30-40 teachers (a ballpark figure, he says) are the norm, with many absences prearranged. Supply teachers are called in when teachers need coverage while attending field trips, sports events, school activities, or experiencing sickness.
The last time that absenteeism was analyzed in Ontario, TLDSB had the third lowest rates in Ontario. Matthew says he is “incredibly proud” of that.
A secondary occasional teacher who wished to remain anonymous adds that the local board is not using their existing supply teachers “correctly” and that this has nothing to do with supporting extracurriculars.
“I’ve worked 1.5 days since November. They can’t say they don’t have enough” supply teachers. The occasional teacher adds that if the local board “got themselves a call-out system like every other board in the province they would know what the availability” of their supply teacher pool is like.
As it stands right now, “they just text people,” the teacher says, hoping they get someone who can teach that day.
Matthew questions how many boards still use an archaic, manual call-in system.
“If a teacher wakes up sick, the process is to call the vice principal around 6:30 am at a time that he/she is trying to get ready for work too.”
Matthew says because the process isn’t automated here, the vice principal is charged with calling or texting to get a replacement one at a time.
The union leader wants to know how many of these calls or texts a vice principal could possibly do while trying to get ready for work? He believes it “limits the number of attempts they make to cover an absence.”
This doesn’t matter when they can fall back on on-calls (full time teachers covering for full time teachers) by simply assigning them.
“The lack of on-calls is the situation that the board is basing its decision on,” not the number of supply teachers that are available.
Additionally, if there aren’t enough supply teachers, “which doesn’t seem evidence-based,” it’s important to note that the “number is capped by a freely bargained collective agreement, not by the union.”
Teachers will be escalating their job action by conducting rotating strikes next week. Talks broke down on Friday between the government and ETFO when the mediator called off discussions.