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May 4, 2004

Strike shuts school for deaf

From: London Free Press, Canada - May 4, 2004

KELLY PEDRO, Free Press Reporter

Teachers at five special schools in Ontario, including one in London, are on strike after negotiations broke off early yesterday. The strike affects 637 deaf, blind and deaf-blind children and youths in correctional institutions and demonstration schools across the province, including 53 at Robarts school in London.

"There's the obvious victimization of the students," said David Bobier, chairperson of the Robarts advisory council. "Everything's at their expense and that's very frustrating for parents."

His two deaf children, 12 and 15, stayed home yesterday.

"With many of the kids that attend these schools, their social life is at the school. They're fairly isolated when they go home. They typically don't have friends in the community," Bobier said.

"This is probably the worst situation for students."

He said parents were told the schools are open, but classrooms are closed. Students are doing activities in the gym and pool, causing concerns for their safety among a number of parents, he said.

The strike by 239 teachers began at 5 a.m. after negotiations ended between the Ontario Secondary School Teachers' Federation (OSSTF) and the management board of the Ontario government.

"It is more than ironic that we start Education Week . . . with a strike in the only schools directly administered by the provincial government," said Rhonda Kimberley-Young, a federation spokesperson.

Teachers had been working under a contract that expired last September.

The federation said the key issue in the dispute is wage and workload parity with public school teachers.

Bobier said parents are also frustrated wage parity issues aren't resolved.

"If you don't have a competitive pay scale, you're not going to be able to attract new teachers and we're having a huge problem in that area," he said. Teachers with qualifications in special education may be working in school boards where they get more money, he said.

Bobier urged the provincial government to show its dedication to education and work something out.

"If they continue using these kids as pawns, it's going to reflect very badly on . . . the program that they insist they're going to carry out."

The province's negotiation team is available to meet and work out an agreement, said Jason Wesley, spokesperson for the management board secretariat.

The federation is also willing to go back to the table, said Beth Phieffer, president of the OSSTF's District 30.

No talks are scheduled.

The strike is a first for teachers at the special schools, although Robarts was closed in 2002 for several weeks when public service employees went on strike.

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