Ontario students back to class amid province-teachers dispute

Elementary and secondary school students across Ontario head back to class today facing more uncertainty as the labour dispute between public school teachers and the government deepens.

The Liberals have imposed new contracts on teachers that cut their benefits, freeze most of their wages and have many other new stipulations, although Ontario Education Minister Laurel Broten has said the government will soon repeal the legislation.

But high school teacher Helen Lockhart told a Canadian Press reporter that the government’s move to repeal the bill will not ease tensions.

"It actually makes me more angry because they've already put it into effect, and now that they don't need it, they're going to get rid of it, which doesn't change anything for us," Lockhart said.

She and many other teachers said they have no plans to resume supervising extracurricular activities, even though Premier Dalton McGuinty has spoken to union heads and asked teachers to restore their outside-class work.

The contenders vying for McGuinty's job are divided on how to deal with the dispute, as indicated in Sunday's Liberal leadership debate in Ajax, Ont.

The topic was not a large focus of the debate, but candidate Gerard Kennedy, who served as education minister in the early years of the McGuinty government, met with demonstrators who picketed outside the debate.

Kennedy was also the only leadership candidate who pledged to throw out the two-year contracts imposed last week, in order to start a new round of negotiations.

"The only way to rebargain is to be prepared to reopen those or to start afresh," he said Sunday.

"And I'm not sure which will work, but I think that's probably starting again."

In December, teachers in every public elementary school in Ontario staged one-day strikes in protest of Bill 115.

In-class work is expected to be back as usual Monday.

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