Ontario backtracks on increase to high school class sizes
TORONTO -- Ontario’s Progressive Conservative government is backing away from its plan to raise class sizes in provincial high schools in a bid to avert a potential strike by secondary school teachers.
Education Minister Stephen Lecce announced Thursday that instead of raising class sizes to a provincial average of 28, classroom sizes will increase to 25 students per teacher in high schools.
“We have moved the provincial average, the funded average from 28 as was initially intended down to 25,” Lecce said during a news conference at Queen’s Park.
“I think all the parties have to be somewhat flexible to get a deal.”
However, the union representing public high school teachers says the government included a “poison pill” in the offer that could have a significant impact on students.
According to the union, the offer came with a condition to eliminate regional class size caps that allows some school boards to have smaller classes for safety and special education reasons.
At the Toronto District School Board, as an example, high school shop classes are capped at 22 students per teacher for the safety of students.
“If you eliminated those caps, then any of those classes could go up to any number – 40 kids, 50 kids – and there would be no protection for those kids’ education environment,” said Harvey Bischof, President of the Ontario Secondary School Teachers Federation (OSSTF)
“There’s no improvement here. In fact there’s a gigantic step back.”
Despite the new offer, OSSTF says it asked for a no board report – which puts the union on the path to being in a legal strike position. The union has already started asking teachers for a strike mandate, with the results of a province-wide vote expected in mid-November.
In a rare move, the Ontario Public School Boards Association – which sits across from OSSTF at the contract negotiating table – issued a statement criticizing the government for the class size change.
“We remain concerned with the government’s most recent proposal to set the average class size at 25 students,” said association president Cathy Abraham.
“The smaller average increase in class size we saw in September (22.5 to 1) led to significant challenges for students and school boards and we expect that the situation will only get worse if we were to move to 25:1."