Public-address announcements in the next few weeks should reveal if new life will be breathed back into extracurricular activities at schools in the Renfrew County District School Board.
However, don’t expect teachers to come flooding back, following the recent departure of most teachers from extracurricular activities, after protesting since December the provincial government’s use of Bill 115 to force contract agreements with the majority of Ontario schools.
So says Jeff Barber, the president of the Ontario Secondary School Teachers' Federation Local 28, which covers all of Renfrew County.
The provincial council of the OSSTF announced Friday (Feb. 22) that it had voted to recommend its members suspend their political action related to extracurricular and voluntary activities.
Barber, a Renfrew Collegiate Institute teacher until he became the Local 28 president five years ago, predicts there will be mixed response to the OSSTF provincial council’s recommendation.
“Some teachers are expected to return to extracurriculars. Some will be a little more reluctant to return. They may wait to see what happens in discussions with the Province,” said Barber after speaking to several of the local’s 350 teachers Monday.
“And there will be some that won’t want to return to extracurriculars after the way they’ve been treated by the provincial government.”
In a news release, OSSTF provincial president Ken Coran said, “We expect that this sign of goodwill will prompt the government to have genuine discussions that can lead to a fair resolution to this current impasse.”
Barber said he hopes OSSTF discussions with the provincial government result in some adjustments to what has already been agreed to in contracts. The contracts run to the end of August 2014.
As OSSTF’s legislative body, the provincial council determines interim policy and approves political action for the OSSTF’s 60,000 members. The council consists of more than 150 local leaders from across Ontario.
A barometer of how many teachers in Renfrew County’s public schools will return to extracurriculars will be much clearer after the March break, and the start of the usual season for track and field, badminton, soccer and other sports.
Listen to school announcements as a good indicator of how busy RCI and other public high schools will be on the extracurricular scene, said Barber.
Other extracurricular events include Relay for Life, an RCI event that has been raising more $80,000 annually for the Canadian Cancer Society.
Although Barber isn’t officially an RCI teacher, that’s where he’d most likely volunteer his time for extracurriculars. Barber says he’ll wait a couple of weeks before determining the extent of his own involvement with extracurriculars.
OSSTF membership includes public high school teachers, occasional teachers, educational assistants, continuing education teachers and instructors, early childhood educators, psychologists, secretaries, speech-language pathologists, social workers, plant support personnel and university support staff.
Following Friday’s OSSTF announcement, Premier Kathleen Wynne said she was “glad that teachers, support staff and students across the province will once again enjoy the extracurricular activities and programs that mean so much to them.”
Wynne added: “For the past few weeks, my team and I have been meeting with our partners in the public sector and engaging in positive, frank and collaborative discussions about our shared priorities.”
In the same news release, the premier said she was confident the government’s “commitment to fairness, consistency and respect in our conversations with OSSTF and all our partners will continue to result in real work being done for the people of Ontario.”
There was no boycott of extracurricular activities by teachers in the Renfrew County Catholic school board, because they had a tentative agreement in place before the Province used Bill 115 to force contracts with school boards without tentative agreements.
The Elementary Teachers Federation of Ontario has indicated it will review its position on extracurriculars by March 1.