When the Canadian Union of Public Employees (CUPE) gave their five-day strike notice to the provincial government last Wednesday, Nov. 16, the two major school boards in the Ottawa Valley followed with letters of information sent home to parents.
Unlike many school boards across the province, the Renfrew County Catholic District School Board (RCCDSB) stated half of its 21 schools will be open for students to attend in-class learning.
However, the Renfrew County District School Board (RCDSB) informed parents that in the event of a strike on Monday, Nov. 21 by staff in support of school support workers, all schools will be closed. The RCDSB oversees the operations of 24 elementary schools, seven secondary schools, four continuing education alternative schools (adult high schools), and four programs for alternative learning (student success) in the County of Renfrew, Ontario.
Many parents of children attending school in the Ottawa Valley are particularly concerned that online learning, which was implemented for more than 27 weeks during the COVID pandemic (March 2020-June 2021) may be the only option for thousands of children.
It is not just parents raising the alarm bell over the negative effects of isolated on-line learning had on countless students during that time. Several research studies from educators and medical experts concluded about the mental health and well-being of children, not to mention the learning gaps that are associated with school closures.
The RCDSB provided parents with a tentative timeline if an agreement is not reached between CUPE and the province.
If negotiations are not successful between the parties, all students at the RCDSB will move to asynchronous learning starting on Monday, Nov. 21 and Tuesday Nov. 22, and begin synchronous learning on Wednesday, Nov. 23.
One of the complications facing RCDSB is the inability to guarantee that every student will have access or in their possession the computer resources required for online learning. Even if every eligible student had the required device to participate, they may not have access to Information technology support.
“Device deployment for students who require Chromebooks will begin on Monday (Nov. 21), and will be coordinated by your child/childrens' home school,” the memorandum stated. “We appreciate your patience. Our IT support staff are also part of CUPE, and will not be available during the strike.
“If your child has a device they can use, we appreciate them doing so. Please note: technology is limited, and we will do our best to accommodate as many students as we can.”
RCCDSB will have some schools open
In a letter sent home with all students, the administration explained board policy in regards to a potential strike.
Unlike the RCDSB, the Catholic system will not be closing all 21 elementary and secondary schools within the county. CUPE within RCCDSB consists of custodians at some of our schools, and all tradespeople at the board.
“If negotiations are not successful between the parties, some schools in the Renfrew County Catholic District School Board will convert to asynchronous remote learning on Monday, Nov.21, 2022. Synchronous learning will begin on Tuesday, Nov. 22, 2022 and beyond should the strike continue.
“On Monday, Nov. 21 2022, if the parties have not reached an agreement, schools will convert to remote learning and the days will be asynchronous. This means that student's work will be placed on their online learning platform for them to complete on those days, and they will not be following their usual daily class schedules."
The memo went on to state that, “Should the labour action continue, students will convert to synchronous learning on Tuesday, Nov. 22. This means they would follow their typical daily schedule remotely. “
The memo listed 10 of the 21 schools within the district that are slated to transition to online learning on Nov. 21 barring a last minute agreement. The RCCDSB said students at the affected schools will have access to school technology for remote learning if needed and more information will be available from the individual schools.
For the remaining 11 schools not on the list, they will not be affected by any potential strike action and will remain open with regular daily transportation.
Talks are ongoing and to date, the provincial government presented a generous offer, but it was not directed towards CUPE as a bargaining tool.
Late last week, the Ministry of Education released a statement which said the school board “recognizes that “it is critical that health care and licensed child care workers can continue to do their jobs.”
“That’s why our government will provide these workers who may not be able to support their child’s learning at home with access to free care for elementary school children starting Monday, Nov. 21, 2022, and for the duration of CUPE’s labour disruption in the 2022-2023 school year.”