Teacher’s union says Ontario government violated bargaining rules over reading memo
By William Eltherington
The union representing elementary school teachers in Ontario has filed a complaint with the province’s labour relations board, accusing the government of failing to act in good faith by issuing new requirements related to reading screenings while bargaining is ongoing.
The Elementary Teachers’ Federation of Ontario, which is in negotiations with the province over a new collective agreement, said the government violated its bargaining obligations over a memo it released on July 28.
The ETFO says the memo requiring elementary school teachers to conduct mandatory early reading screenings twice a year for students in year two of Kindergarten through Grade 2 violates good faith duties because early reading screening is a subject of central bargaining.
“This new policy does not signal for us meaningful discussions are going to happen and that it is clear that they’re not bargaining in good faith,” said ETFO president Karen Brown. “This is not the way.”
The union also says a statutory freeze is in effect, meaning the terms and conditions of the former collective agreement remain in full force.
ETFO notes the memo conflicts with the terms of that agreement because it ignores language that allows teachers to exercise their professional judgement when implementing reading screenings.
Brown said screenings on reading in classrooms are regularly conducted but argued the new tools that go into effect on Sept. 1, as outlined in the memo, are unclear.
“There has been no training. There is no sense of what the tool looks like,” Brown said.
“Teachers welcome better tools, but there needs to be the training and the supports.”
According to the Education Quality and Accountability Office, approximately 25 per cent of Grade 3 students in Ontario did not meet provincial standards in reading, and 30 per cent did not meet provincial standards in writing in 2018-19.
The policy memorandum released by the provincial government outlines various recommendations to school boards for early reading screening, such as when, how often and which screening tools should be used in Ontario schools.
The province’s memo says the new requirements on reading screening must be “implemented in alignment with collective agreements” and that “where there is a conflict between the memorandum and a collective agreement, the collective agreement prevails.”
In February 2022, the Ontario Human Rights Commission released a “Right to Read” report, which includes detailed recommendations regarding early reading screening indicating that “when screening happens early, schools can identify struggling and at-risk readers to provide early and targeted intervention.”
In an emailed statement, Ontario’s Ministry of Education said the new instructions were developed with feedback from all unions and the education sector.
“Our government understands that the status quo is not acceptable and is determined to lift standards and outcomes in Ontario’s education system when it comes to reading, writing, and math skills,” the statement said.
Brown said bargaining meetings are expected to continue at the end of the month and the complaint does not hold up the bargaining process, but said she is not optimistic about the progress of the negotiations.
“We’re quite upset,” Brown said.
“You can’t continue to be saying you’re bargaining in good faith when you have clearly violated a fundamental principle of our collective bargaining.”
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