Elementary school students. (© Can Stock Photo / oksun70)

Teachers unions not convinced by class size announcement

Unions representing Ontario’s teachers have responded loudly to word that the province won’t significantly increase class sizes this school year.

The Ontario Ministry of Education announced Thursday that they had modified previous plans to increase class sizes for the 2019-2020 school year but teachers unions are not convinced that what they were told is anything new.

Reaction has been harsh from Liz Stuart, president of the Ontario English Catholic Teachers Association (OECTA), which represents teachers at English Catholic boards across Ontario. In a post on the union’s official Facebook page, Stuart called the Thursday announcement “an insult to students, families, teachers, education workers and all Ontarians.”

“The government is deliberately misleading Ontarians about what is happening in the publicly funded education system,” said Stuart. “This is another example of a desperate government trying to avoid public outcry about their dismal record.”

Education Minister Stephen Lecce said Thursday that the modified plan will only increase secondary class sizes by half a student. Stuart said this isn’t really changing things, and pointed out that budgeting for school boards is already in place for the school year, which begins province-wide on September 3.

“If the government was planning a different course of action, they could have told Ontarians about it months ago,” said Stuart. “Instead, they have been content to allow chaos and confusion to unfold. Now, in the midst of collective bargaining with teachers and education workers, the Ministry is trying to distract Ontarians and deflect blame for the anxiety the government has created among everyone in the education community.”

Similar sentiments have been expressed by the Ontario Secondary School Teachers’ Federation (OSSTF). Union president Harvey Bischof dismissed it as “smoke and mirrors”.

“The Ford government is framing this as a good news announcement,” said Bischof in a statement posted on the union’s Facebook page. “But this does nothing to mitigate the damage that will be wrought by the removal of a full quarter of Ontario’s high school teachers from the system.”

A report issued this spring by the OSSTF said that as much as a quarter of Ontario’s teaching positions would be lost by increasing class sizes. Bischof said he isn’t expecting much to change.

“The end result will still be ballooning class sizes, fewer supports for students, and a significant reduction in available courses and programs,” said Bischof.

Teachers across the province are in the midst of negotiating new contracts for the coming school year.