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Ontario boards set to fight elementary teachers’ union over extracurricular boycott

Hundreds of Oakville Trafalgar High School students take part in a protest to raise attention to missed extracurricular activities in December, 2012. The Ontario Secondary School Teachers’ Federation has said majority of public high school teachers may not return to extracurricular activities even though their union is encouraging them to do so.

Deborah Baic/The Globe and Mail

Ontario's school boards are preparing to take legal action against the elementary teachers' union after it advised members this week to continue boycotting student clubs, sports teams and other after-school activities.

The director of education at Windsor's public school board denounced the decision by the Elementary Teachers' Federation of Ontario as an illegal strike, and said he would be meeting with trustees to discuss taking the issue to the Ontario Labour Relations Board.

Two smaller boards, Trillium Lakelands and Upper Canada district school boards, have already argued before the OLRB that the union has engaged in illegal strike action by directing its members not to lead extracurriculars. Submissions from the school boards contain e-mails from union leaders instructing their members not to collect milk and pizza money, participate in report-card workshops, distribute school newsletters or attend field trips.

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ETFO leaders decided Thursday not to stop their political protests despite ongoing discussions with new Premier Kathleen Wynne that prompted their colleagues at the high-school level to reinstate sports teams and clubs.

"It's time to consider the kids; I've had enough," said Warren Kennedy of the Greater Essex County District School Board, which oversees schools in Windsor. "I think that parents' patience has worn out and they're looking to us for what we're going to do to restore their kids' after-school activities."

Other boards, including Ontario North East District School Board based in Timmins, will also be meeting next week to discuss legal action.

The labour board ruling on the Upper Canada/Trillium Lakelands case is expected soon.

"Going forward, we need to settle once and for all whether it is appropriate for education unions to disrupt the operation of the schools by withdrawing services that occur outside the instructional day," said Greg Pietersma, chairman of the the Upper Canada school board.

Other school boards were reluctant to join the legal battle as recently as a month ago, fearing the further deterioration of their relationship with local union leaders. Many were hopeful that a resolution could be reached with the province's change in leadership. Those hopes were dashed Thursday with ETFO's decision.

"It's very disappointing to be in this position, but students have to come first," said Doug Shearer, chairman of Ontario North East district school board.

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Trustees began discussing legal action at their last meeting, and are expected to decide on the issue Tuesday.

Some boards said they are awaiting a ruling on the Trillium Lakelands-Upper Canada case before deciding whether to pursue legal action.

"We aren't ruling out any of the available options to us," said Mark Schinkel, executive superintendent of human resource services at the Waterloo Region District School Board. "Our goal here is to move forward in a way that restores extracurriculars and volunteer activities. I wouldn't count us out."

Teachers began political protests in September when the Liberal government introduced legislation that dictated the terms of their contracts. The legislation imposed a 1.5-per-cent pay cut in the form of three unpaid professional development days, cut teachers' annual sick days down from 20 to 11, and removed their ability to bank those sick days for a cash-out upon retirement.

Teachers stopped voluntary activities such as leading clubs or sports teams and offering students extra help after school. Elementary teachers staged one-day walkouts shortly before Christmas.

The Ontario Liberals chose a new leader in January and talks between both unions and the government resumed under the new Premier. Those talks have focused on protecting teachers' bargaining rights by revamping, and possibly legislating, the negotiations process. The progress prompted the Ontario Secondary School Teachers' Federation to advise its members to resume extracurriculars last month.

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Education reporter

Kate Hammer started her journalism career in New York, chasing crime and breaking news for The New York Times. She came to the Globe and Mail in 2008 to do much of the same and ended up investigating allegations of animal cruelty and mismanagement at the Toronto Humane Society. More

Education Reporter

Caroline Alphonso is an education reporter for The Globe and Mail. More

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