Education minister 'optimistic' for labour peace in September
Ontario's new education minister is "constructively optimistic" that there will be labour peace and students will be in the classroom this fall.
Contracts for all education unions expire at the end of August, and Education Minister Stephen Lecce said he has already started conversations with the unions.
"In my first day, I called all union leaders in the province and in the second week, I met with virtually every teachers union and I am meeting with the support unions in the coming days," said Lecce in a one-on-one interview with CTV Windsor anchor Michelle Maluske.
Lecce also said it's important to keep the lines of communication open with all unions to keep kids in the classroom in the fall.
"I insist that we all work harder and quicker so that we can provide predictably to parents and to young people and to educators themselves that we get a deal," added Lecce. "I believe we need to do more listening and communicating and I am doing that with the mission of keeping students in the classroom in September where they belong."
The contract negotiations come at a time when thousands of teachers across Ontario fear their jobs are on the line, while courses in high schools are being scaled back or cancelled after the government announced plans to increase average class sizes.
The Ministry of Education said the average class size will move up by one student in Grades 4 to 8, and to 28 from 22 in high school. The moves are expected to eliminate an estimated 3,475 teaching positions over the next four years as the province looks to trim an $11.7-billion deficit.
Former Education Minister Lisa Thompson stressed there would be no layoffs but instead, the teaching positions would be lost through attrition.
In the interview with CTV Windsor, Lecce said he would listen to teachers and work with them to ensure the changes in class sizes do not hurt the student experience.
"I see our teachers, our support workers as people who work hard, are compassionate and really care about these kids and I share that conviction," said Lecce.
Social workers in the province have also suggested the changes in funding for families with children who have autism will mean more youth will be enrolling in schools in September.
Lecce said the Ministry of Education has a role to play to help children with autism spectrum disorder or any child with intellectual or developmental disability.
"As Minister of Education, I care deeply about these kids," said Lecce. "Our most vulnerable children in society, this is why we have governments, to help them and enable them to help them achieve their potential, I insist they are respected."
This past February, the government moved to revamp the Ontario Autism Program and clear the 20,000-child waitlist for therapy. The decision outraged families, who received a dramatic cut in funding. The government has since said the program will be changed once again, following a new round of consultations.
Lecce also noted the Progressive Conservative government has increased investments in special education and mental health to provide "a positive experience for those children."
"I think there is important role that we can play to help ensure that it's a seamless journey as they go through the learning experience," said Lecce.