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Stephen Lecce, Ontario's Education Minister, Queen's Park screen shot, March 20, 2024

Education minister voices disappointment with teachers’ unions

By Randy Thoms Mar 20, 2024 | 7:18 PM

Ontario’s Education Minister is expressing his disappointment over teachers’ unions and the opposition for not wanting to support a request to extend the number of days retired teachers can return to the classroom as substitute teachers.

The number was reduced at the beginning of this school year back to 50 after increasing to 95 the last three years because of the pandemic.

Stephen Lecce wants it back to 95, but the Ontario Teachers’ Federation (OTF) declined to support the request.

In a statement, the OTF says it reluctantly agreed to the increase initially as a way of addressing some of the lingering effects pandemic.

“Amending the rule was only ever envisioned as a short-term measure. Deflecting responsibility onto retired teachers is neither a sufficient nor a sustainable option to address staffing challenges,” says a release issued by the Federation.

” Changing the rule for retired members neither encourages working teachers to remain in the system nor does it attract prospective candidates to join the profession.”

English and Catholic teacher unions support the OTF’s decision.

They call the measure a band-aid solution that does not address the issues around the recruitment and retention of teachers.

Responding to opposition questions at Queen’s Park on Wednesday, Lecce says teacher absenteeism remains a concern.

“We have educators in this province, on average, taking 16 days off in the 184 days of work. We have a problem, and we have a solution in the short term. Use experienced retirees,” says Lecce.

The inability to rely on retired teachers more has caused staffing challenges for many school boards.

Some have turned to using unqualified teachers, personnel without the credentials recognized by the Ontario College of Teachers.

Lecce says using retired teachers is supported by others in the education system.

“Every single voice in the education system is on the same page here, with the exception, apparently, of the Democrats, Liberals and teacher unions who opposed a common-sense recommendation supported by every principal’s association, supported by every trustees’ association, supported by common sense families who want experienced retired educators to be the front of class to fix short term absentee issues.”

The opposition points blame on the Education Minister for the staffing shortages.

The government created this problem with its cuts to education, its wage suppression bill and its disrespect for teachers. We now have thousands of teachers leaving the sector, many of them not waiting for the end of the school year because of the working conditions,” says Chandra Pasma, the NDP’s Education Critic.

The OTF says it is willing to work with government on measures that address the staffing issues.

It says a report from a multi-stakeholder Teacher Supply and Demand Action Table is to be finalized in the coming weeks.

The Federation is hoping the Minister will commit to implementing its recommendations.