About 100 teachers and school staff from Ottawa schools rallied Friday near the Merivale Road office of Conservative MPP Jeremy Roberts to protest cuts to education.
The protest was organized by education unions to put pressure on local MPPs as they return to the legislature Monday after a five-month break.
The return to the legislature will also put the spotlight on negotiations with provincial education unions.
Public high school and elementary teachers and Catholic board teachers are taking strike votes. The unions representing public school teachers have also asked for conciliators to be appointed, which is one step in the process that could lead to a strike or work to rule.
Many of Friday’s protesters said they were concerned about the government’s decision to increase high school class sizes.
“I feel like a lot of cuts are really bad for students,” said Jenny Kirton, a teacher at Hillcrest High School. “It’s already difficult with the current class sizes to make sure you are meeting the needs of all the students. I can’t imagine what it would be like with larger classes.”
Victoria Charlton, a teacher at A.Y. Jackson Secondary School, said larger classes would mean teachers have less time for each student. Teachers would also have to spend more time marking after school, making it difficult for them to volunteer for extra-curricular activities such as coaching. “There’s only so much time in a day.”
The government had ordered school boards to increase average high school class sizes from 22 to 28 over the next five years.
However, Education Minister Stephen Lecce suggested Thursday the government would only raise the average class size to 25 in order to reach a contract with teachers.
Teachers’ unions rejected that idea, saying Lecce also proposed getting rid of class size caps included in some local collective agreements.
The caps mean individual classes can’t exceed set maximums.
Some school boards have warned that raising average class sizes means they won’t be able to offer as many specialized classes with smaller enrolments or that other classes will have to increase in size to compensate. Some boards have already cut the number of courses or sections offered.
The government reached a tentative agreement earlier this month with 55,000 Ontario school support staff represented by CUPE just hours before they planned to strike. CUPE agreed to the government’s proposal of a maximum wage increase of one per cent annually. The government agreed to restore as many as 1,300 CUPE jobs.
While the government points out that education funding has increased, critics note the amount being spent per pupil has been reduced.
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