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Wednesday, March 22, 2023
Niagara parents worried about more online learning if strike closes schools
Parents will learn by late Sunday afternoon if educational workers are striking next week. Evan Loree

With both the Catholic and public school boards of Niagara planning to close schools Monday if educational support staff are on strike, parents are worried how another disruption might affect their kids.

The union representing educational assistants and other workers says it will let parents know by 5 p.m. Sunday if they are walking off the job.

Kathryn Thompson’s three sons attend Niagara elementary and secondary schools and she is concerned about the stress of yet another disruption after just having made it through those caused by COVID-19.

“I really, really want to support CUPE at this point, but I’m finding it really, really hard,” Thompson said in a phone interview on Friday.

She is a dental hygienist and her husband is a mechanic.

They are unable to work from home and do not have a reliable way to support their children’s learning if it moves back online.

Thompson said she respects the need for educational support workers.

One of her three sons, Mavarick, 8, has attention deficit hyperactivity disorder and could have used an educational assistant when he was in kindergarten.

Brenda Ferguson, a post office worker in Niagara-on-the-Lake, is a little confused by the dispute and wants the two parties to get a deal done.

“I don’t agree with online (learning) after the last few years seeing what it did to their mental health,” Ferguson said.

Christine Davies has a daughter at Crossroads Public School and worries about what will happen to her if things go back online.

On Monday, the province repealed Bill 28, the Keeping Students in Class Act, which invoked  the “notwithstanding” clause of the constitution and made a strike illegal.

“I wasn’t a big fan of the Bill 28, so when the government pulled that off the table, I thought that was fair,” Davies said.

She is in favour of the right to strike, but wants her daughter to stay in class.

“In-person learning is critical,” she said.

The Canadian Union of Public Employees served up a five-day strike notice after contract negotiations reached a standstill with the government late Tuesday.

In response, the Niagara public school board warned parents its schools could be shut Monday. The Niagara Catholic board followed with an announcement on Thursday that it would do the same.

“We are disappointed that only a few short days after talks restarted, CUPE has filed notice to once again shut down classrooms,” Education Minister Stephen Lecce said on Twitter.

The union representing 55,000 education workers in Ontario said in a news release that while it has reached a “middle ground” on wages, negotiators have been unable to secure additional funding for “services that students need and parents expect.”

“The government needs to step up to and put more funding into the system,” said Darren Levere, an educational assistant employed by the Niagara Catholic District School Board.

Student services are provided by educational assistants, custodial and maintenance workers and library technicians.

“These are the services that kids need, but you need to pay the workers that are doing these vital jobs,” Levere said.

At Queen’s Park on Wednesday, Lecce told reporters, “They need to start reflecting on how these disruptions impact working people and their kids.”

Levere insisted that they are not working against parents.

“Join us, tell this government you demand more for your children,” he said.

The five-day strike notice comes on the heels of a provincewide strike on Nov. 4 which was incited by the passing of Bill 28.

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