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Secondary teachers’ strike action to continue

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Fort High student Mathew Nowak already is well aware his Grade 12 experience may fall short of his dreams.

With secondary school teachers set to withdraw from voluntary extra-curricular involvement due to a stalemate in contract talks with the provincial government, he’s not alone.

“Football has been one of the biggest parts of my high school career so my senior year without a possible full season is very upsetting,” said Nowak, who also has been involved in Muskie curling during his time at Fort High.

“It could be my last year ever playing football in my life so if that gets taken away from me, I’ll be pretty upset,” he lamented.

“It’s my favourite sport and if it gets taken away, I might not be able to play ever.”

Nowak also said the planned job action could ruin his chances of applying for an athletic scholarship.

“I was hoping to go for the Letterman Award [by] having played on 10 accumulative sports teams,” he noted.

“My plan was I would have the four football teams and the four curling teams by playing on them throughout my four school years,” he explained.

“But then I decided last year that I just need two more to get the scholarship.

“I was hoping this year to go into track-and-field and the ski team for the two extra teams,” Nowak said.

“But now [that] this has happened, my chances don’t look so good.”

Nowak knows this school year could be quite difficult not only for him but his fellow classmates involved in extra-curricular activities.

“People consider your last year [of high school] to be your biggest year,” he remarked.

“It’s when you do the most stuff and you’re at your best.

“You’ve been practising this sport for the last three years, and this is your last chance where you’ve gotten to the best point you can be in high school sports,” he reasoned.

“Having that taken away, it’s like three years of working up to that point and it’s gone.”

Local OSSTF president Kent Kowalski said until contract talks are resolved, teachers will take necessary action.

“The withdrawal of extra-curriculars just started, and at the end of August we will be ramping up to do more,” he warned.

Kowalski said because there haven’t been any scheduled talks with the provincial government, the withdrawal of extra-curricular involvement will continue into September at the very least.

“I can’t see anything being scheduled until school resumes,” he noted.

Kowalski said it’s important for students, parents, and members of the community to realize this type of job action isn’t enjoyable for teachers, but rather a step needed to take in reaching a negotiated settlement.

“None of the teachers want to do this,” he stressed.

“We don’t want to do withdrawals, we don’t want to be on strike, we’d rather be in a classroom doing what we do.

“It takes two sides to bargain and there has to be some give and take,” he reasoned.

Kowalski said working conditions negotiated in past contracts have been stripped since 2012.

“We’re here for what we bargained in the past,” he explained.

“We’ve agreed to these things in the past number of decades and then to totally eliminate them is not acceptable,” he argued.

Kowalski said a big issue both provincially and locally is classroom size.

“Generally speaking, students’ working conditions are our learning conditions,” he noted.

“This whole thing with the government is like playing a game against somebody and they get to change the rules,” he added.

“They have an agenda, which is to change our working conditions, and that’s done through changing our collective agreement.”

Heather Campbell, director of education for the Rainy River District School Board, offered a more positive outlook.

“We continue to have confidence in the professionalism of our teachers throughout the negotiation process, and we value their work with students,” she said.

“We remain hopeful that an agreement can be reached soon.”

Campbell said the local board has not been officially informed yet of the nature of the teachers’ job action, but will provide new information or updates on its website (www.rrdsb.com).

Kowalski, meanwhile, will attend a “Summer Leadership” meeting Aug. 20 in Ottawa, where provincial OSSTF president Paul Elliot plans to announce what the next levels of action will be.

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