Friday afternoon, the Ontario Secondary School Teachers' Federation (OSSTF) announced that they will encourage their members to resume supervising extracurricular activities.
At the time this blog post is being written, little is known about what led to this announcement, or how close OSSTF and the government truly are to overcoming the bad blood generated by Bill 115. But it's big news and people are already reacting to it. I decided to contact some of the people The Agenda has reached out to on the matter of Bill 115 over the past several months.
Annie Kidder of People for Education, who appeared on a program we broadcast in December (above), sees the move as "an incredibly positive sign." She thinks this is a signal that OSSTF and the government are truly making an effort to repair their relationship and make things in the schools work.
Kidder says that over the past few weeks, the province and OSSTF have been involved in serious discussions. "I think there has been a lot of stuff on the table (in terms of ideas and issues)," Kidder says. In trying to resolve the conflict, it's her sense that "OSSTF has tried to use their imagination."
As to whether the Elementary Teachers' Federation of Ontario (ETFO) will follow suit, Kidder isn't sure. "ETFO is much further apart from the province than OSSTF ever was," she says.
But for Hirad Zafari, of the Ontario Student Trustees' Association and a guest on the same program as Kidder, ETFO is less of a concern. Zafari, a high school student, is primarily concerned with the posture of high school teachers, which OSSTF represents. Zafari also argues that extracurriculars become of greater significance to students during their high school years, so ETFO's posture on extracurriculars, while important, will not affect the student experience as much.
He says with this move, OSSTF is putting students first. "(Teachers) are demonstrating they know what those extracurriculars mean to us (as students) and they're not going to use it as a political tool." Zafari also says he's really pleased that new premier Kathleen Wynne and new education minister Liz Sandals moved to address this issue so quickly, less than two weeks after assuming office.
I also spoke to Toronto District School Board Trustee Howard Goodman, who did an online interview with us in September. Goodman says he's feeling a lot better than he was 24 hours ago, "as a trustee, as a parent, and as a citizen."
It's important to remember amid all this enthusiasm that OSSTF is only advising their members to suspend their actions related to extracurricular and voluntary activities. This indicates OSSTF is not ruling out advising high school teachers to resume boycotting extracurriculars if talks with the government do not continue to progress.
And OSSTF can only ask its members to resume extracurriculars, not tell them. It's clear that on Twitter not all teachers are happy with today's announcement and may not heed their union's call.
@cbcqueenspark Union leaders are not asking us to return. They have no say in my voluntary activities. Personally, I need my rights restored
— Andrea Loken (@AndreaLoken) February 22, 2013
Want to quit OSSTF for ETFO
— Lisa Nutley (@NutleyLisa) February 22, 2013
— D. Jerome (@eruditewit) February 22, 2013
Democratic rights are for everyone! Or in this case Democratic promises are for #osstf. Still waiting for my rights.
— Ellen McConomy (@mcconomy) February 22, 2013
According to the Toronto Star, OSSTF President Ken Coran says he expects about 20 per cent of teachers will not return to extracurricular activities despite the union's suggestion today.