Open Letter Regarding Withdrawal of Extracurricular Activities During Current Teacher Labour Dispute

TORONTO, Dec. 7, 2012 /CNW/ - As part of their current labour dispute with the Ontario government, both the Elementary Teachers' Federation of Ontario (ETFO) and the Ontario Secondary School Teachers' Federation (OSSTF) have directed their members to stop participating in extracurricular activities. This decision had been made by the unions - not the government, school boards or principals. For more than one million students in the province's public schools, this will mean an end to sports, clubs, concerts, plays, art exhibitions and more.

While the teacher unions and some of their members have suggested that principals, vice-principals and parents can step in to lead these activities, there are significant challenges with this option.

First, while teachers are engaged in strike action, principals cannot leave the school during the day, since there would be no other staff member available to take our place. Usually, a teacher would be designated as a teacher-in-charge when the principal is away from the school, but teachers are no longer taking on that responsibility. We are, therefore, precluded from involvement in any activities outside of the building.

Second, it is not possible for 5,000 principals and vice-principals in the public system to replace 126,000 members of ETFO and OSSTF. Even for schools that have vice-principals (and many do not), one or two administrators cannot run every club and sport. As part of the strike, teachers and support staff have withdrawn from a number of administrative duties, dramatically increasing the workload of principals, who are at school well before teachers and students arrive and are there until late at night. There is simply no time to take on more duties.

Third, while it is possible for parents and/or volunteers to take on some clubs/sports, there are simply not enough volunteers available to fill the gap. Even before the strike, principals sought out volunteers to help with teams and clubs, and while we sometimes find parents or community members to help, often we do not. We are required to conduct criminal background and vulnerable person screening checks before volunteers can help out in schools, which take time, so they simply cannot step in overnight to fill in for teachers. And once approved, volunteers require direction, training and supervision from the principal. Using volunteers without completing these steps would leave students vulnerable and would leave boards open to liability should any incident occur while a volunteer was in charge.

In addition to extracurricular activities, the unions have also directed their members to withdraw from taking part in field trips. Some teachers are telling parents and students that principals and vice-principals can take these over. Without being able to leave our schools, this is not possible. There is also the suggestion that it is principals who are making the decision to cancel the trips. To be clear, direction about such cancellations has come from the union, not the principal; to suggest otherwise is inaccurate and misleading.

Extracurricular activities are an important part of the culture of a school. They give students the opportunity to learn about teamwork, cooperation and fair play; to learn new skills; to take on leadership roles; to build self-esteem; and to practice the skills they have learned in class. They are especially important for our most vulnerable students, who often stay engaged in school because of these extra activities, and for the students who can't afford these opportunities outside of the school. And they are most successful when led by the teachers who are trained and know the kids. These strong relationships between teachers and students often extend into the classroom, leading to higher achievement.

Principals and vice-principals are proud of our teaching and support staff for the time they give to our students through these extracurricular activities, and we thank them for that. It is very unfortunate that the current labour dispute has resulted in the withdrawal of extracurricular activities and field trips, which we know are disappointing to parents and their children.

While we are hopeful that the situation will be resolved soon and that all our school activities will resume as soon as possible, it was not our decision to cancel these activities and we cannot - despite what the union says - take on everything that has been withdrawn by teachers during the current labour strike.

Ken Arnott
President
Ontario Principals' Council

The Ontario Principals' Council is the professional association representing over 5,000 principals and vice-principals in the province's public elementary and secondary schools. Established in 1998, the OPC advocates on behalf of public education and provides professional supports to its Members.

SOURCE: Ontario Principals' Council

For further information:

Laura Hyde
Ontario Principals' Council
(416) 322-6600