CUPE job action prompts public board to ‘postpone’ extra-curricular activities, but Catholic board stays the course

North Dundas District High School. Zandbergen photo, Nation Valley News

EASTERN ONTARIO — So far, the impact of the job action initiated today by unionized custodial, maintenance and clerical staff — as well as educational assistants, early childhood educators, library workers and IT employees — is startlingly uneven between the major competing school boards in the region: The Upper Canada District School Board (UCDSB) has called off extra-curricular activities, effective today, but that’s not the case at the Catholic District School Board of Eastern Ontario.

Illustrative of the divide are two elementary cross-country meets scheduled today in Dundas County. Winchester Public School called off its meet, while children will still get their exercise at the St. Mary-St. Cecilia’s meet in Morrisburg.

The Canadian Union of Public Employees (CUPE) last week announced its members would begin a work-to-rule campaign today (Sept. 30) if negotiations failed on the weekend. The UCDSB last week assured parents any such action by the union would be “intended to mainly target school and board administration, as opposed to directly impacting parents and students.”

With those employees now working to rule, the UCDSB says it is “postponing” all field trips, sporting events and after school extra-curricular activities “to ensure the safety and proper supervision of students.”

“Our core mission is to educate students in a safe environment. We are confident that even under this work-to-rule campaign, your child will remain safe in our schools and their learning will not be interrupted,” the UCDSB also says.

CDSBEO Chair Todd Lalonde acknowledged his board’s divergent approach and confirmed that extra-curricular activities are continuing at CDSBEO schools.

There “no plans” to change that approach, Lalonde told NVN. “Our schools are making accommodations where needed, and we’re going to offer the best possible standard program we can, considering the circumstances,” he said.

“What other boards choose to do is their business. I know from our perspective, we’re doing what we can to make it work, and I know we have staff stepping up, and we appreciate that. We’re just going to go forward and hopefully it doesn’t get to a point where we have to start cancelling stuff. But at this point, there’s no plans for that.”

CUPE’s job action in the province’s 63 school boards comes in response to the Ford government’s funding cuts to the boards in a bid to bring down the provincial deficit.  The UCDSB alone has had to wrestle with an $11-million reduction.

“We’ve always said that any job action we take will have at its heart the protection of education services for students,” said Laura Walton, president of CUPE’s Ontario School Board Council of Unions (OSBCU), which bargains centrally on behalf of the union’s 55,000 education workers, in press release.

“And this year we’ve seen those services decimated: school libraries closed over students’ lunch breaks because there aren’t enough library workers; school cleaning cut to the point that custodians are told they can only vacuum kindergarten classrooms once a week; eight or nine students with special needs now supported by a single education assistant; communications with parents affected because some schools have lost their school secretaries.

“If it takes job action to restore these services, then so be it. This is something worth fighting for.”

This article has been updated to reflect comments from CDSBEO Chair Todd Lalonde.

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