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We Will Fight for a System That Provides the Supports That Both Students and Educators Need to Succeed

Sharon O'Halloran

The women’s issue of Voice acknowledges the important role that women, women’s programs and women’s leadership have historically played and currently play in our Federation and highlights some of the work we do to create and support movements for social justice within our locals, our schools and our communities. Together we work to organize for a union and an education system that value equity at their foundation.

The summer issue is also an opportunity for us to reflect on the work that we have done over the past year. This year has been eventful with bargaining ETFO member contracts at the centre of much of our work. We have also broadly introduced. ETFO’s new Anti-Oppressive Framework, continued our work to challenge anti-Black racism, invested significant time and resources in addressing violence in schools and diligently worked to challenge the government and pressure them to invest in public education. ETFO staff have delivered many programs to members locally and at the provincial office, responded to legislation, met with locals to support local bargaining, and ran a robust public campaign to keep public education issues in the forefront.

ETFO’s new Anti-Oppressive Framework is intended to support members and local leaders as we collectively learn how systems of oppression such as colonialism, racism, sexism, homophobia, transphobia, classism and ableism can result in individual discrimination and structural and systemic inequalities for certain groups in society. As we continue using an intersectional lens to move our organization and our communities forward, the goals of this framework and associated training opportunities are to recognize and dismantle discrimination and power imbalances.

In the winter, ETFO commissioned an independent survey of our members focused on violence in elementary schools. The survey results demonstrated what ETFO members have been saying for years. Increasingly, we are seeing incidents of student behaviour in Kindergarten to Grade 8 classrooms that raise safety concerns and serious challenges for educators. The vast majority (80 per cent) of ETFO members responding to the survey said that the number of violent incidents has increased since they began working in public education, while 66 per cent said that the severity is worse. An alarming 77 per cent of ETFO members said they have personally experienced violence or have witnessed violence against another staff person, with experiences of actual physical force and attempted physical force being highest among those who work in Kindergarten. Fifty-two per cent of ETFO members have experienced an attempt of physical force against them this school year alone, while 44 per cent reported having experienced actual physical force against them. And 35 per cent of ETFO members participated in a classroom evacuation during the 2022-2023 school year.

These numbers are extremely concerning and show a higher frequency of violent incidents towards women, persons with a disability, First Nations, Métis and Inuit members and 2SLGBTQ+. Educators and specialists in the field know that like any behaviour, student violence is a communication of needs going unmet. The only way to remedy this situation in through investment in our public schools, in specialists and in the resources and supports students and educators need.

This round of bargaining is so important to our members and our public schools. This government has been working to undermine our public education system since they came into power in 2018; through legislative changes to the Education Act to put more decision-making power in the hands of the Ministry of Education, through persistent underfunding and through continuous misinformation from the Ministry. This government is trying to create a crisis in public education like the one it created in healthcare to justify their attempts to introduce more privatization into the public system. The commitment of ETFO members to our students, our colleagues and to equity in public education will continue to help us push back in the upcoming year.

While ETFO won our Charter challenge on Bill 124, which imposed a three-year wage freeze on ETFO members and other public service workers in our 2019 round of bargaining, the government’s appeal of this verdict was heard at the end of June. ETFO is hopeful that the verdict will be upheld. If so, redress for ETFO members impacted by Bill 124 will be critical to the resolution of the 2022 round of central bargaining. We will inform members of the decision once it is delivered.

I want to thank you for your incredible work this school year and to wish you a restful summer break. I’m looking forward to our continued work together.

– Sharon O’Halloran