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Visit from Education Minister sparks renewed calls for new teachers contract

Education Minister Stephen Lecce was in Kitchener Monday morning, while representatives of the teachers union protested outside
OSSTF protesting
A group of teachers union representatives stand in front of J.W. Gerth Public School in Kitchener Monday morning, while Education Minister Stephen Lecce was making an announcement inside the school. Mark Pare/KitchenerToday

A week into the new school year, it remains the elephant in the room.

Teachers working without a contract and a dispute between union reps and the province reared its head with Education Minister Stephen Lecce in Kitchener Monday morning.

Lecce, in town to announce a new policy directive for school boards to develop policies regarding service animals by January 1, also spoke about the ongoing contract negotiations.

"My mission as the Minister of Education is to stand with parents, who seek predictability, and who want to see a deal landed that's in the public interest," he said, "We are working very hard around the clock, in good faith with our union partners, our trustee partners, to land a deal."

He says getting a deal done requires cooperation from all parties, but is glad to see there haven't been any redundancy notices issued in Ontario.

"That is a proof point that our plan, as we said would manifest, is manifesting," Lecce says, going on to add it's in part because of $1.6-billion dollars set aside by the Ford government to help prevent job losses.

While Lecce was inside J.W. Gerth Public School for Monday's announcement, outside was a group of teachers union representatives protesting provincial cuts to education.

Sean Hibbs, President of Educational Support Staff and Student Transportation Services of Waterloo Region, says while the announcement inside is a good thing for students who are in need of service animals, it won't do any good if teachers aren't in the classrooms to teach.

"Removing people from the classroom, and replacing them with dogs isn't going to resolve the problems," he said, "We need to have a multi-pronged solutions, this is a multi-faceted problem."

"Our bargaining unit has suffered heavy cuts during the last round of roll backs in funding, and taking people out of the schools and taking people out of the classrooms isn't going to be eased by bringing dogs in.  While a dog might help out with a current issue of keeping children calm, or keeping children focused on the task, when incidents do flare up, you're still going to need a person there to deal with it."

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