Underlying issues of strike in rural Ontario schools


We all understand the importance of downsizing and cutting back on expenses when managing our own personal debt. Did you tighten your belt over the last few months to balance your budget after excess spending last Christmas? With that in mind it is easy to understand why the province of Ontario needs to manage well over $300 billion dollars in debt — essentially money they have borrowed from taxpayers and various investment vehicles like bonds.

This is the reality expressed by some taxpayers in the Valley who get angry as they watch our educators strike. Let’s take a look at the other side of the coin….. The sentiment expressed by our teachers and parents, not to mention the real cost of educational cutbacks to our rural students and our more vulnerable special education programs.

The one-day strike on February 21, 2020 by the four largest teachers’ unions emphasized the underlying issues of support staff, the adverse impact of larger classrooms on our rural teachers and our general student population. All of this culminating in problematic outcomes for our special needs students. Reality is, “… about a third of its 60,000 members (Ontario Teachers Federation of Ontario) work at a wide variety of other jobs. They include office administrators, custodians, social workers, IT staff, library technicians and educational assistants who work with special-needs children.” Click HERE for the full article in the Globe and Mail. 

Educational Assistants earn less than half of what teachers earn and most boards require 16 students from a single grade to qualify for an Educational Assistant. In rural communities where we experience classrooms combining multiple grades we often do not qualify for an Educational Assistant. Research reveals other rural communities identify children with behavioural issues who are kept home half days as a risk management measure to ensure the safety of other students as there is no Educational Assistant to support children with significant challenges. Also, autistic children who are not considered flight risks are having trouble integrating into the standard classroom as they, too, are without educational support when rural schools don’t meet the urban eligibility requirements of the Ministry of Education, who don’t understand rural communities.

“All students require support from teachers, classmates, family and friends to thrive and benefit from their school experience. Some students have special needs that require additional supports beyond those in a classroom setting….. Special education programs and services in the Renfrew County District School Board (RCDSB) support classroom teachers in meeting the needs of our diverse group of learners with special education needs.” Special Education Click HERE to visit the RCDSB website. 

Whether in elementary school or high school there are many kinds of learners. Some students are visual learners, some auditory learners and some are tactile learners. Our teachers, support staff and educational assistants facilitate different learning strategies to enable our children to succeed. Presently, some rural schools require teachers to teach elementary students spanning junior kindergarten to grade 3 in one classroom. Beyond that we expect professionalism in preparing classroom content, additional hours spent after school marking and provision of extracurricular activities that promote student health and well-being. As a society we want to be inclusive on so many levels but there is a cost.

“The Renfrew Country District School Board, for instance, was forced to cut about 30 courses and blend grades and academic levels into the same classroom at some of its schools this year. Grade 11 and 12 drama, music and guitar courses were eliminated at one school, while another didn’t offer any physics courses in Grade 11 or 12 and a third school cut French courses in Grades 11 and 12, offering e-learning instead.” Click HERE to read the full article in the Ottawa Citizen. 

As a social worker I am aware of the varying developmental needs of different age groups. The residual impact of larger classrooms and online curriculum exacerbate the challenge of applying different learning strategies to benefit our rural student population. “…Staff (Ontario Secondary School Teachers Federation) interviewed on the picket lines [say] they are concerned about the same issues cited by teachers: They want more support for kids with high needs and action on violence in the classroom. They oppose larger classes and mandatory online courses for high schoolers. They want full-day kindergarten preserved.”  Miller, Jacquie; Feb 19, 2020; Ottawa Citizen

There was a time when one-room classrooms combined multiple grades, but 21st Century education requires so much more, when our children aspire to compete globally for a post-secondary education spots and need to learn in an inclusive classroom.


elser-lee-archer-thumbnailAbout the author: Elser Lee (Faith) Archer’s governmental experience both at the provincial and municipal level — the latter as a councillor — coupled with her professional expertise as a social worker and mediator, provides our readers with valuable commentary and insight. As a community volunteer, Archer has played a leading role in the Communities in Bloom success in recent years and has stepped up to ensure the Barry’s Bay Triathlon continued. She wears many hats including as a Rehabilitation Consultant and is an advocate for youth and people of all abilities. 


  1. Barb Cardwell

    Great article! So many people don’t understand the struggles going on in the classrooms and schools right now. I have a few relatives and friends who are teachers, so I have a clear understanding of what they’re dealing with.
    I’m also so sick of the people who whine about teacher’s salaries. The reality is they are required to have 5 years of post-secondary education and TWO degrees. Then most spend on average 10 years doing substitute teaching before they can get a permanent contract position. It takes another 10 – 15 years to climb up the pay scale, all the while needing to meet the requirements of continuous additional professional training/qualifications. To do those 9am – 3pm jobs with the summers off that everyone loves to complain about. Do you really think that lesson planning, marking, test/exam prep, reading/grading those 30 essays, writing report cards, etc. are done during classroom time? I don’t know how many times I’ve had invitations turned down because “sorry, I’m doing report cards this weekend”, or “sorry, I’ve got marking to do”, or something similar.
    And don’t even get me started on the struggles in the classrooms with special needs students who really require much more attention, versus giving all the other students ANY attention/help. And dealing with today’s helicopter parents or those that question/challenge the teacher’s every decision. I don’t know when it became so acceptable to be so disrespectful and unsupportive to the people who help form children into the adults they’re going to be. No one else wants the job, but they sure love to complain about it. Rant over.

  2. This is a very informative article on the negative impact of underfunding educational programs . There are many non-classroom areas within the ministry of education where expenditures can be decreased.
    It’s time for this government to set an example of fiscal responsibility. For example, are you , john yakabuski, enjoying your 20% increase in your housing allowance, while your government talks about deficit control?

  3. Carrie Sweeney

    Thank you for posting. The writer has a clear understanding of the amplified negative impacts on rural communities. It is important to note that alternate cost-saving measures within the education system have been proposed. When we support quality public education for all we support the health and success of our communities.

  4. Laurel-Ann Sernoskie

    Thank you The Madawaska Valley Current for discussing the unique issues that rural schools will face with the proposed cuts to education. I am very concerned about what will remain in our rural high schools as they struggle to meet new class size averages. As you mentioned, many courses will be cut and many of the classes that do run will have more than one class being taught at the same time. Rural schools already have more eLearning than urban schools… this will only increase likely to the point that many/most senior credits will be earned through online learning. These impacts on our secondary students simply because they live in a rural area are not fair. Residents of Renfrew County – please contact John Yakabuski and insist that he fights to protect the specific needs of our rural schools!

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