Waterloo Region Record

Stormy fall on tap for students?

Ford voters wanted disruption, but likely not in their kids’ educations

- KEITH LESLIE Keith Leslie is a veteran Queen’s Park reporter.

The kids go back to school next week and Ontario parents could be forgiven for worrying about potential disruption­s in classrooms this fall.

Negotiatio­ns with teachers and support staff have gone virtually nowhere. The Progressiv­e Conservati­ves imposed a one per cent wage cap, the teachers’ contracts expire this weekend and their unions are digging in for a fight against a deficit-obsessed government they consider the enemy of public education.

So why did the Ford government wait until two weeks before classes resume to reveal its new health and physical education curriculum, which included an updated sex-ed curriculum virtually identical to the previous Liberal one? You know, the one the Tories forced school boards to abandon last year and revert to the 1998 curriculum, from a time before smartphone­s and social media.

Doug Ford had no real campaign platform and didn’t make many specific promises in 2018, but he did vow to get rid of the lesson plans on sex education the Liberals introduced in 2015.

“We will scrap Kathleen Wynne’s sex-ed curriculum and replace it with one that’s age appropriat­e, and only after real consultati­on with parents occurs.”

The Tories not only didn’t scrap the Liberal plan, they brought it back with changes that even their critics consider improvemen­ts, addressing issues such as consent and body image in the early years, but pushing back gender-identity discussion­s from Grade 6 to Grade 8.

Just including gender identity is considered a betrayal by the so-cons Ford abandoned almost as quickly as did the last PC leader, Patrick Brown, but it may be a sign the premier’s office is finally moving from campaign mode into governing, more than a year after winning a massive majority.

To help us forget about a year of angry protests over sex-ed, the very next day, Education Minister Stephen Lecce declared everyone had completely misunderst­ood the whole increased class-size plan, and for high schools it would remain at an average of 22.5 students this year, not jump up to 28. Apparently it was the media’s fault, again.

Ontario Secondary School Teachers’ Federation president Harvey Bischof told his members Aug. 15 that the increase in class sizes, and resulting loss of 3,475 teaching positions over four years, meant the PCs had “declared war” on the education system. “That system is in peril, and we as educators are under attack as well,” Bischof said.

Didn’t Lecce hear that? Didn’t he see the stories earlier this summer about school boards scrambling to cancel or scale back courses for this fall to accommodat­e the larger class sizes? Why wait until last week to clarify the situation?

An earlier move by the Tories didn’t help the contract talks. Bischof told the Globe and Mail he was literally at the negotiatin­g table last spring when he learned, via a tweet, that the government would introduce legislatio­n to impose a one per cent wage cap on the public sector, including teachers.

Lecce, with a moderate tone in marked contrast to Ford’s previous education minister, insisted he’s open to ideas from the unions to help keep classes from reaching 28 students in four years, if they have other cost-saving ideas.

There’s also huge uncertaint­y for another group of parents who’ve had an incredibly stressful year because this government completely screwed up its attempts to overhaul Ontario’s autism funding formula, and its new funding plan won’t be ready until next spring. How many of those parents will enrol their kids in public schools next week in hopes they get some services and help while the government gets its act together on their funding?

Voters last year were well aware Doug Ford would be a disrupter in Ontario politics — someone who’d really shake up the system and get the finances in order after 15 years of Liberal rule — but no one wants disruption in their kids’ educations. If the Conservati­ves can reach new contracts with the teachers’ unions without work-to-rule campaigns, strikes or lockouts, it would go a long way to reversing the view they are a one-term government.

 ?? STEVE SOMERVILLE TORSTAR FILE PHOTO ?? Stephen Lecce, Ontario Minister of Education, is a more moderate voice in the portfolio than his predecesso­r. But will he be able to broker compromise with education unions?
STEVE SOMERVILLE TORSTAR FILE PHOTO Stephen Lecce, Ontario Minister of Education, is a more moderate voice in the portfolio than his predecesso­r. But will he be able to broker compromise with education unions?

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