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Northeast teachers picket in Tisdale, Nipawin, Melfort

Local teachers on the picket lines report they received plenty of public support while they faced cold weather.

TISDALE — Teachers from across the province went on a one day strike. In the Northeast, North East School Division teachers took strike action in Nipawin, Melfort and Tisdale.

On Jan. 16, teachers gathered at demonstration sites in communities across Saskatchewan. The Saskatchewan Teachers’ Federation said they were demanding the government return to the bargaining table to discuss working and learning conditions in publicly funded schools.

“It is extremely unfortunate that government has pushed this issue to the point that it is now impacting schools,” said STF President Samantha Becotte. “This is the very last thing any teacher wants to do. Teachers and supporters throughout the province are braving the cold today to advocate for their students and ensure they get the resources they desperately need. This government simply cannot continue to ignore these growing concerns.”

Paulette Patchin, a teacher from Porcupine Plain, said there were lots of people honking and showing their support.

“It felt very supportive out there. Lots of people bought Tim’s coffee for everyone to share, one lady was handing out Tim’s cards loaded with $3 on each card to people out there. A group of Grade 12 girls showed up at the Canalta with hot chocolate, coffee and timbits for everyone to share.”

Shelley Pierlot, a Nipawin teacher and principal, said that a group of teachers from Nipawin, White Fox, Carrot River, Choiceland, Arborfield, and Zenon Park were on the Nipawin picket line.

“We kept warm by sharing teaching stories and reconnecting with colleagues who we don’t see as often, and as a collective we all want the same, for the government to value our kids and teachers, and support learning in our province. It warmed our hearts to have retired teachers, [education assistants] on their lunch hour, our own kids and students, and friends join us in our demonstration for our cause.”

She added that local residents and business provided pizza, hot chocolate and coffees, donuts, hand warmers, ice fishing pop up tents with heat and warm-up spots.

"Right now, it also really helps the government see that the public wants a quality education for their children when they reach out to the Premier Moe and other government leaders including their MLAs. Write letters, call offices, send emails and tell them why funding is so important for a better tomorrow in the classroom in this province."

Alexis Armit, a Hudson Bay teacher said, “The extreme cold alert (-35°C with windchill) did not dampen our resolve to stand up for education. Thank you everyone for the honks, cheers, the hand warmers and the Tim Horton’s gift card! Your support meant everything to us.”

STF President Samantha Becotte was joined by Canadian Teachers’ Federation President Heidi Yetman to hand-deliver over 3,300 letters to the legislative offices of Premier Scott Moe and Minister of Education Jeremy Cockrill. The letters were submitted from teachers and parents across the province, describing critical issues such as class size and complexity, and what the government must do to address them.

“If we improve class composition, we improve learning conditions for students. This is why teachers in Saskatchewan are out on the streets today, to make sure that every student in this province gets the education they deserve. An education that will prepare them for the modern world,” the CTF President said

In speaking to reporters on Jan. 16, Cockrill said that classroom complexity is a “line in the sand that the government will not be moving on.”

“We believe that issues of classroom size and complexity are best dealt with by school divisions,” Cockrill said. He said he would continue to work with school divisions on that issue.

“It’s not something we are going to include in a provincially negotiated bargaining agreement.”

Saskatchewan teachers are beginning a new five-day countdown to further job action. The next job action will begin on Monday, Jan. 22. Specific information related to this job action will be shared no less than 48 hours prior.

“The Minister of Education says that issues like class size and complexity are best dealt with locally. We agree, but local boards cannot address these issues when they are dealing with a decade of budget cuts and drastic underfunding from the provincial government,” Becotte said. “We cannot solve these issues with more committees or one-off pilot projects in a small fraction of our schools. We need irrefutable commitments and long-term funding, and our best option to hold government accountable is through our collective agreement. The Conciliation Board agrees that these are bargainable items."