How Ontario parents are reacting to yet another school disruption as CUPE strike begins

Andrea Wobick went to Queen's Park with her six-year-old daughter to protest beside CUPE education workers fighting against the Ford government's new anti-strike bill. (Pelin Sidki/CBC - image credit)
Andrea Wobick went to Queen's Park with her six-year-old daughter to protest beside CUPE education workers fighting against the Ford government's new anti-strike bill. (Pelin Sidki/CBC - image credit)

When push comes to shove, Hilary Agro says she's the one in her family who's shouldered the extra burden over the past few years.

During the COVID-19 pandemic and now in the midst of an education workers' strike, she's the one who watches over her two daughters or moves money around to get them a babysitter, putting her PhD research on the back burner to do it.

It's a burden often placed on women when things get disrupted, but this time, she says, it's more than worth it as thousands of education workers walked off the job Friday to "politically protest" a bill passed by the provincial government that prohibits them from striking for higher wages.

"I am struggling, but I am 100 per cent in support of the strike," said Agro, a Torontonian, during a Zoom interview Friday with CBC News. Her child goes to a school in the Toronto District School Board, which closed down Friday for in-person learning.

"I am willing to do whatever it takes to handle these short-term setbacks for our family in order to safeguard the long-term stability of the people around me and the society that I live in."

Submitted by Hilary Agro
Submitted by Hilary Agro

Agro is just one of thousands of parents and caregivers across Ontario who are caught in the middle of yet another disrupted school term. The government of Premier Doug Ford passed the controversial bill this week forcing 55,000 education workers to stay on the job and accept the province's contract offer — saying it was important to keep the province's two million kids in class after two years of disruptions due to the pandemic.

The workers represented by the Canadian Union of Public Employees (CUPE) walked out Friday to protest against the bill, which uses the notwithstanding clause to override their charter right to collective bargaining, and say they will be off until further notice.

Education Minister Stephen Lecce filed a submission to the Ontario Labour Relations Board in response to what the Ford government calls an "illegal strike action." CUPE says it will fight that submission.

After two-and-a-half years of tumult throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, the labour action by CUPE, which represents workers such as custodians, teachers' aides and early childhood educators, has prompted school boards across the province to once again move to online learning. They made the move even though the Ministry of Education asked them to do everything possible to keep schools open for students and maintain access to child care centres.

The closures have forced child-care operators and daycare programs located in school buildings to shut down, change their pick-up or drop-off protocols or reduce their hours, with before- and after school programs closed indefinitely, further complicating child care for parents.

Here's how some parents are reacting to another school disruption.

'An important lesson about democracy'

Andrea Wobick attended a Friday protest at Queen's Park in support of the education workers with her six-year-old daughter in tow.

"I want to make sure that workers are actually being respected, that they're being paid a living wage, and to show my daughter that it's important to stand up for peoples' rights," said Wobick.

Wobick isn't a CUPE worker, she says, but a parent and member of the community concerned about the right to strike.

The protest served a real-life lesson for her daughter, she says, who missed out on in-person school.

"I think that is actually an important lesson about democracy, about our constitutional rights," said Wobick.

'Mixed feelings' 

Mariyam Qureshi, who has a son in the Halton District School Board, is nervous at the thought of having her kid switch fully to remote learning once again.

"After COVID, we thought this was going to be over," said Qureshi.

The Halton District School Board is one of the only boards that has left schools open for in-person learning.


But with an indefinite protest, she's not sure how long it'll last. The board says starting next week, students will need to start alternating between remote and in-person, she says.

Other schools boards, such as the Toronto District School Board and the York Region School Board, have said they'll need to switch to synchronous virtual learning next week too if the labour action continues.

"I think ultimately it's affecting kids, but we can understand the pain that people who are going on strike have. It's mixed feelings for every one of us."

Parent 'sick and tired' of virtual learning 

Kayla Payne says she had to take time off work at her retail job to supervise her five kids, ranging from preschool age to Grade 3. She says the last few years of virtual learning have severely impacted how her kids learn and behave.

Payne, who lives about 148 kilometres north of Toronto in Orillia, says she has to stay home and help them with their virtual learning. Now that the Simcoe Country District School Board announced Friday that schools are closed for in-person learning all of next week, she says she has no other choice.

Submitted by Kayla Payne
Submitted by Kayla Payne

"Me and a lot of other parents are just sick and tired," said Payne.

After Payne learned schools would be closed for in-person learning, she volunteered to co-ordinate a new Facebook page called "Parents Refuse Online Learning".

"This is us as parents saying, 'We're done, and we can't do it anymore.'"

As much as she wants virtual learning to end, Payne doesn't blame striking workers. If anything, she hopes the government gives them the raise they were looking for to allow them to go back to work and look after her children.

"I can't be the one teaching them."