The Grade 10 Whitby student has already missed four weeks of math class about quadratic equations — older kids warn it’s the “basis” of next year’s math — plus a month of biology lessons on evolution and a class study of Lord of the Flies.
With nearly 70,000 Ontario teens out of school in three school boards because their teachers are on strike — some 21,000 at the Durham District School Board have been out since April 20 — Queen’s Park has asked an arm’s-length body to rule if the school year is in danger.
“Exams don’t teach anything … and they’re not mandatory under the Education Act,” said Durham board chair Michael Barrett.
“We are quickly approaching the point of no return,” said Education Professor David Livingstone, Canada Research Chair in Lifelong Learning and Work, and Professor Emeritus in the department of social justice at the University of Toronto’s Ontario Institute for Studies in Education.
“School boards could still do make-up (work) by extending school days or deferring final exams … But unless there is significant movement by both the provincial government and the teacher federations in central bargaining very soon, back-to-work legislation will become inevitable,” he said, “and we probably will be back in a worse mess next fall.”
The Ontario Secondary School Teachers’ Federation (OSSTF), whose members are on strike locally in Durham, Peel and Sudbury, plans to return Wednesday to central, province-wide talks with the Ontario Public School Boards’ Association and the Ministry of Education, with the help of a new mediator.
But they are meeting in what has become a political pressure cooker, as students and parents begin to panic, Education Minister Liz Sandals waits for the Education Relations Commission to determine this week whether the school year is at risk, and the Ontario Labour Relations Board prepares to rule Wednesday on whether the local strikes are illegal because they’re based on central bargaining issues.
If the strikes do end — either by agreement or by command — boards are scrambling to figure out how to save the school year.
How to make up for lost time?
“That is one of the contingencies we are considering. Exams are expendable in that sense. It’s really the content the kids need to know.”
Barrett, whose own Grade 12 son has been off school since the Durham strike began, said the board had set aside two weeks at the end of June for exams. But given the time crunch, “why do exams?” he said.
Should teachers return, “what they are going to have to do is pick and choose, and make sure that they cram in as much as possible in order for the students to have the foundational pieces when they go. My son needs that chemistry — he’s going to have to learn as much as he can.”
The three boards hit by strikes are working closely with the Ministry of Education to determine how to handle the missed curriculum if and when teachers are back on the job, said Brian Woodland director of communications for the Peel District School Board, whose high school teachers have been on strike since May 4.
“There’s no expectation that the work of the year can be completed in the part of the year” left, he said. “It would be a compressed end of year.”
The board has heard from students who “are really worried they are going to be given exams on work they haven’t completed in class.” They won’t, he added. “They’ll only be assessed on the work” they’ve done and are able to complete should school resume.
But Durham student Thomas MacIntosh said a compressed curriculum is far from ideal.
“I have an amazing biology teacher who enhances our knowledge of science by going off on wild tangents on things like how disease affects humanity, but that sort of extra stuff will get cut — we’ll just be sticking to the book.”
In the Rainbow board in Sudbury, one week has been set aside for exams in June. The board is also still looking at its options.
“We will be working with the Ministry of Education to determine how this will happen,” said Nicole Charette, senior adviser of corporate communications.