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Striking teachers picket Canora-Pelly MLA office

Strike co-captains Kim Merriam, a Canora Composite School teacher, and Ryan Lambert, a teacher at Kamsack Comprehensive Institute, said a major issue in the dispute is classroom complexity.

CANORA - In spite of dealing with typical Saskatchewan January weather including temperatures around -20 C and winds ranging from 30 to 45 km/h, over 100 demonstrators from across the Good Spirit School Division gathered in Canora on Jan. 16 to picket the office of Canora-Pelly MLA Terry Dennis and throughout downtown Canora during the one-day Saskatchewan Teachers’ Federation strike on Jan. 16.

Demonstrators marched in front of the MLA office and throughout downtown Canora with signs that read, “Stand up for public education,” “Invest in our future, fund our schools,” “Students are the future,” while signs carried by students urged the provincial government to recognize that “Our future needs ‘Moe’ funding.”

Strike co-captains Kim Merriam, a Canora Composite School teacher, and Ryan Lambert, a teacher at Kamsack Comprehensive Institute, said a few of the issues in dispute are as follows: classroom size and complexity as well as violence in the classroom.

“We need funding to ensure we have enough resources to meet the diverse learning needs of our students,” said Merriam.

They went on to explain some of those diverse learning needs.

Classrooms have become more complex, and teachers require more supports. 

Some rural teachers in Saskatchewan have multiple grades in the same classrooms and are stretched too thin. 

In some areas of the province students with diverse learning needs may not have timely access to educational psychologists, occupational therapists, and speech language pathologists. 

“Education has been underfunded so long, there simply aren’t enough staff in the building to help everybody,” said Lambert. “Teachers are being asked to do more with less. You can’t give a system less money and expect better results.”

Both Lambert and Merriam indicated that the government is not co-operating in bargaining efforts.

“We always keep the best interests of the students at heart. That’s hard to do when the other side refuses to bargain,” said Merriam.

They emphasized that teachers are fighting to uphold publicly funded education, which includes meeting every student where they are at and ensuring that the proper supports and resources are in place for every student to grow and flourish.

Merriam echoed the message from Saskatchewan Teachers' Federation President Samantha Becotte. “Teachers’ working conditions are our students’ learning conditions."

“We appreciate all the support we’ve received from the public,” Merriam and Lambert concluded.

When informed of the demonstration, Canora-Pelly MLA Terry Dennis responded “I am sorry that I am away and was not able to meet with the teachers. Our government values the important work our teachers do in educating the children of this province. Through the Government-Trustee Bargaining Committee, the Government of Saskatchewan is committed to reaching a settlement that is fair to teachers and sustainable for the province.”

In response to concerns voiced by the teachers, Dennis pointed to recently announced new Saskatchewan Party pilot projects “to provide additional supports in classrooms. These include the Teacher Innovation and Support Fund, which will foster local, teacher-led solutions while addressing classroom and student needs; and the Specialized Support Classrooms, which will focus on helping staff manage and de-escalate behavioural incidents.”

After being informed that he and his Sask Party colleagues were accused of not co-operating in bargaining efforts, Dennis said, “We believe local school divisions make decisions in the best interests of their students and staff every day. The impact of including language around class size and complexity within the provincial collective agreement is significant. What works well in a large, urban school in Regina may not be practical in smaller, rural schools like Canora.”

Dennis added that, “The Government-Trustee Bargaining Committee is always willing to meet at the bargaining table to reach an agreement. We believe a fair offer has been made and we look forward to the STF returning to the bargaining table.”

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