A Guide For Parents During A Teachers' Strike Or Lockout

When schools close, you need to be prepared.

A nasty cold, frigid snow days, and sudden school bus cancellations are all reasons kids might miss class, but dealing with a teacher strike is a whole other story.

Parents and caregivers can be left scrambling when schools shut down over contract negotiations and may struggle to stay up-to-date on what will affect their families. Not to mention unpacking what a job action means with their kids, who may have their own views (Timbit kid certainly did!) or don’t understand what a labour dispute entails.

One-third of the 62 work stoppages recorded by Employment Canada in 2019 so far, have been in the education sector. This week, Ontario public high school teachers walked off the job for a one-day strike after contract talks stalled with the provincial government.

Watch: Ontario teachers hold one-day strike. Story continues below.

With that in mind, it pays off to brace for the possibility of a labour disruption. Here’s how you can prepare, how to keep informed on what’s best for your kids, and how to keep them (and yourself) coherent throughout.

Find out if the school is closed

News of an imminent strike or lockout doesn’t always mean class is cancelled. Strikes are refusals to work, but don’t always mean services stop completely. The Labour Relations Board of British Columbia notes that refusing to do overtime can count as a strike too.

Giving advance notice of a potential strike is the law in Canada. Under the Labour Code, trade unions must give at least 72 hours notice before walking off the job. This length might differ from province to province. In Ontario, provincial public sector unions like the one teachers belong to must give five days notice before any job action.

An empty classroom is usually the last thing parents want, but it can happen if contract negotiations fail. 
An empty classroom is usually the last thing parents want, but it can happen if contract negotiations fail. 

Unions and social media may predict a strike is on the horizon, but they can be averted if last-minute talks come through. Instead of a walkout, teachers may elect to follow a “work-to-rule” protocol, meaning they will teach what’s in their curriculums, but won’t facilitate anything outside of that. This may impact field trips and club activities, but won’t prevent kids from attending class.

Gifts For Kids That Don't Create Clutter

Just because a strike happens in your area doesn’t always mean it will affect your school. Different school boards fall under different bargaining agreements.

You’ll want to hear about closures directly from the school, as they’ll inform parents if a labour disruption will impact their children’s attendance. Don’t rely on your kid’s homeroom teacher getting in touch, as educators are often told by their unions to refrain from disclosing labour issues with their students.

Arrange child care ASAP

Some parents choose to stay home when during job actions. Short-term strikes or lockouts are easy to plan boredom-busting activities for, but those with undetermined durations can leave parents in a lurch. That’s when child care can become an issue.

Some cities like London, Ont. have announced extra programming and spaces when teacher strikes are likely. Keep in mind the cost: CTV News says that child care centres may charge parents PA day (professional activity) rates during a work stoppage.

Daycare programs aren't affected by teacher strikes, but you might have a hard time finding space when they occur.
Daycare programs aren't affected by teacher strikes, but you might have a hard time finding space when they occur.

If you rely on a daycare program located inside a school, you might need to find another option, depending on the space-usage arrangement.

Independent daycare centres usually aren’t affected by teacher strikes. Still, it’s best to contact those in charge of the program to find out.

Couldn’t secure a daycare spot? Hiring a babysitter or figuring out a rotating stay-at-home schedule with other affected parents can alleviate the strain.

Talk to your kids about labour rights

Kids might rejoice over no classes, but it’s important to explain what’s at stake. Start the conversation by finding out what they think of the strike and what they’ve been told. From there, kids might appreciate an objective explanation about what strikes are and why teachers have chosen to walk out.

Flashpoints In History Of Canadian Labour

It’s up to them to figure out how they feel about the situation. Today’s Parent writer Louise Brown stresses keeping a cool head when giving kids context. They may be biased towards one side because they haven’t been given a full picture.

“They’ll [kids] hear enough panic in the playground, from teacher-bashing to Ford-bashing,” Brown writes. “We might serve our kids best by keeping calm, giving them the facts and reminding them all players in this labour drama mean well.”

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