TORONTO — Hundreds of schools across Ontario are set to close their doors on Monday if the province’s education workers go through with a threatened strike, potentially shutting more than half a million students out of the classroom.

The Toronto District School Board was among those to issue a notice to parents Thursday informing them that if a labour disruption occurs, schools will not open to start the week.

The Toronto board is Canada’s largest, with 250,000 students, and more than half of its staff are members of the Canadian Union of Public Employees who could be off the job.

“We have 18,000 CUPE staff who do a myriad of important services,” said the boards’ education director John Malloy. “We could not replicate all of that service and still ensure our student safety.”

Earlier Thursday, the Peel District School Board and York Region District School Board, the province’s second and third largest boards, said they too would close in the event of a strike.

They joined a growing list of school districts across the province that say they will close schools if the custodians, clerical workers and early childhood educators represented by CUPE strike on Monday. 

The Peel board said CUPE workers “are responsible for daily health and safety checks, help when busing issues arise, and provide support that helps keep students and staff safe, and schools running smoothly.

“After thoughtful consideration, we have determined that student safety cannot be ensured during a CUPE strike,” the board, which includes more than 250 schools west of Toronto, said in a statement.

The York Region board, which includes 211 schools north of the city, said it’s very rare for it to close schools to students.

“This was not a decision made lightly,” the board said in a statement. “In examining all possible avenues for contingency planning, there is no capacity to cover the skilled work of these 5,500 staff members.” 

At least a half dozen other school boards across the province have also indicated they will close schools Monday if workers strike, including boards in Windsor, Ottawa, Peterborough and Waterloo.

Laura Walton, the president of CUPE’s Ontario School Board Council of Unions, said the decision to close is up to individual boards.

“CUPE hopes that TDSB’s decision, and those of school boards around the province, to close schools puts pressure on the province and the Council of Trustees’ Association to reach a deal with CUPE education workers this weekend,” Walton said in a statement. 

The union has been on a work-to-rule campaign since Monday that has seen custodians stop cleaning hallways and clerical workers stop finding replacements for absent staff, among other effects.

CUPE gave notice Wednesday of the potential for further job action. The union will return to the bargaining table with the province and school boards Friday afternoon for a round of talks over the weekend.

The government and school boards have said high rates of worker absenteeism remain unresolved, while the union has said the impact of government cuts on workers must be addressed.

A spokeswoman for Education Minister Stephen Lecce said Thursday the government is ready to continue the contract talks.

“We will be at the bargaining table all weekend to endeavour to get a deal that keeps students in the classroom,” Alexandra Adamo said in a statement.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Oct. 3, 2019.

Shawn Jeffords, The Canadian Press

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