Teacher walkout could close elementary schools too, OCDSB says

The Ottawa-Carleton District School Board (OCDSB) says elementary schools in the city will also close next Wednesday if high school teachers go ahead with a one-day walkout.

On Friday, the Ontario Secondary School Teachers' Federation (OSSTF) announced its members will walk off the job Dec. 4 if no agreement is reached with the province.

While the OSSTF represents secondary school teachers, the union's members also include office and clerical workers, custodial and maintenance staff, early childhood educators, adult educators and other support staff at elementary schools.

That's why the board is warning elementary schools will also be affected by a one-day strike. 

Parents should have contingency plan

"We expect we would also have to close the elementary schools for the day, because we simply cannot run programs safely without those supports in place," said OCDSB chair Lynn Scott.

Scott said a new deal — even if it comes as late as Wednesday morning — could avert the strike.

"We do still continue to hope that there will be a settlement reached," she said, adding parents should have a contingency plan in place if the walkout goes ahead.

In a statement to parents, the board said a walkout would make it hard for schools to provide supervision, custodial services, and supports to students with special needs.

Parents of children in elementary schools may not know until the morning of Dec. 4 whether their child's school is open, the board said. Along with day programming at schools, the province-wide walkout may also affect third-party daycares and community activities at schools, the OCDSB noted.

Raphael Tremblay/CBC

Many may be unaware

"I had no idea it was going to affect me," said Malaka Hendela, whose child is in Grade 3 at Elgin Street Public School.

Hendela, who sits on her school's council and is also co-chair of the Ottawa-Carleton Assembly of School Councils (OCASC), said she's concerned many parents may be similarly unaware.

At a recent meeting of the OCASC, said Hendela, the majority of parent representatives seemed to support teachers' efforts to maintain current class sizes — one of the main sticking points at the negotiating table with the province. 

But Hendela said she's also aware a strike will have a big impact — particularly on parents with children who have special needs, as well as families who can't take time off work to watch their kids.

She said she's going to treat the Dec. 4 walkout like a snow day, staying home from work with her son if she has to. If the strike continues beyond a single day, school councils will have to start making plans, she added.

"If this goes on long, I don't know if some of our community associations will be able to maybe step up and offer some additional support," said Hendela. "But there are more vulnerable people than others in this situation."

'Be patient with us'

Nancy Akehurst, OSSTF president for the Ottawa region, said teachers and other education staff hope parents come to understand why they're resorting to strike action.

"Please be patient with us," said Akehurst. 

"This is a fight for the quality of their children's education, to maintain the excellent quality of education that we've had in Ontario for the past years. And we do not want to diminish what we have."