TORONTO — School principals in Ontario asked the provincial government on Wednesday to halt some standardized testing and elementary school report cards as teachers’ unions wage an ongoing work-to-rule campaign.

In a letter to the education minister, the Ontario Council of Principals asked that mid-January standardized math testing for Grade 9 students be suspended until a contract is reached with all teachers’ unions.

“While contract negotiations continue and withdrawals of service are ongoing, it is not ‘business as usual’ in schools,” council president Nancy Brady wrote. “The additional work of these reporting tasks diminishes principals’ and vice-principals’ capacity to meet all the other responsibilities we have in caring for our students.”

The letter comes as public high school teachers conduct their third job action in as many weeks, closing schools at 10 boards across the province.

Both the Ontario Secondary School Teachers’ Federation and the Elementary Teachers’ Federation of Ontario are also conducting work-to-rule campaigns, which limit participating in standardized testing and the amount of work that can be done preparing report cards.

Education Minister Stephen Lecce didn’t comment on the principals’ request, but said the labour disruptions are impacting students.

“This is an affront to students and families across the province, and we stand resolved to get deals that keep our students in class, where they belong,” he said in a statement.

Meanwhile, OSSTF president Harvey Bischof did not rule out further job action in the new year — including a full strike — if a new contract with the province isn’t reached.

“The best possible thing for everybody concerned is that there’s an agreement that creates stability and goodwill in the system,” he said.

A government-appointed mediator called off negotiations between the province and the OSSTF, which represents 60,000 teachers and education workers, earlier this week, saying the parties remained too far apart. Bargaining talks are expected to resume in January. 

Bischof said he hopes the holiday break will help everyone approach bargaining with renewed focus and will set the tone for the new year.

“It’s very much dependent on what happens at the bargaining table when we get back,” he said.

Ontario’s public high school teachers, who have been without a contract since August, have ramped up the pressure on Premier Doug Ford’s government by walking off the job on three consecutive Wednesdays this month.

The first strike on Dec. 4 was provincewide, while the second on Dec. 11 affected nine boards.

The union has said it is pressing the Progressive Conservative government to reverse increases to class sizes and mandatory e-learning requirements. The Tories, however, have said the main issue is compensation, as the province has passed legislation to cap public sector wage increases at one per cent per year over the next three years. The union has asked for a two per cent wage increase. 

NDP Leader Andrea Horwath called on Premier Ford to convene a cabinet meeting over the holidays so that the government can rethink its strategy for education talks in the new year.

“Mr. Ford and Mr. Lecce don’t seem to care that the chaos that they’ve created in 2019 is going to be with us again in 2020,” she said. “The disruption in our kids’ education and the concern and accommodation parents are going to have to make … will happen again in January.”

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Dec. 18, 2019.

Shawn Jeffords, The Canadian Press

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