QUEEN'S PARK -- Ontario’s public high school teachers have signed a new three-year contract with the province, bringing an end to a months-long war with the Doug Ford government over education funding.

The Ontario Secondary School Teachers’ Federation (OSSTF) and the Progressive Conservative government had been engaged in an escalating public-relations battle since September, resulting in thousands of teachers and education workers staging province-wide strikes between December and February.

The chaos in the education sector subsided once public attention was re-focused on the healthcare threat posed by COVID-19 – which led to the closure of all publicly-funded schools to prevent the spread of the virus. While schools were scheduled to reopen May 4, Ontario Premier Doug Ford said the closures would be extended, but did not provide a return date.

OSSTF President Harvey Bischof acknowledged that the “extraordinary times” had a direct impact on the negotiations – which were conducted over video conferencing to adhere to physical distancing rules – and on the resulting contract itself.

“While this tentative agreement does not satisfy all of our concerns, we recognize the current environment we are in and the need for students to have stability once this emergency is over,” Bischof said in a news release.

The union said, however, it managed to push the government on some of its most “egregious proposals,” including a planned increase of class sizes and the introduction of mandatory e-learning.

As the contract talks dragged on the Ford government backed down on its controversial policies slashing its student-to-teacher ration from 28:1 to 23:1, and cutting its e-learning requirement from four mandatory courses to two. Parents can also opt their students out of online classes after meeting with a guidance counselor.

The union, however, agreed to the government’s unwavering compensation request – one percent per year for the life of the contract – which the province had imposed onto public sector employees through legislation.

The Protecting a Sustainable Public Sector for Future Generations Act, also known as Bill 124, is being challenged in court by all four education sector unions as being unconstitutional.

In a statement released on Monday, Education Minister Stephen Lecce said that throughout the negotiations, the province has tried to reach a deal that advances the priorities of students and parents.

“During this entire process, our aim was to ensure our young people receive the best education we can offer, so they can develop the skills they need to succeed in the classroom and in the jobs of the future,” the statement reads.

“We will remain focused on the government’s dual priority of keeping students safe while ensuring the continuity of education. Moreover, we remain determined to continuously strengthen teacher-led learning and virtual learning for the benefit of our students, and we continue to look to our educators to rise to the challenge and deliver quality education to every child, wherever they may live.”

OSSTF says the new contract will be put to a ratification vote in May.