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Saskatchewan teachers hold one-day strike over classroom sizes, supports

REGINA — Thousands of Saskatchewan teachers were striking across the province Tuesday to get the government to bargain on key demands, their union said.
Saskatchewan Minister of Education Jeremy Cockrill speaks to members of the media after the speech from the throne is delivered in Regina, on Wednesday, October 25, 2023. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Heywood Yu

REGINA — Thousands of Saskatchewan teachers were striking across the province Tuesday to get the government to bargain on key demands, their union said. 

The Saskatchewan Teachers' Federation said about 13,000 were holding one-day pickets in towns and cities.

Federation president Samantha Becotte told reporters the union wants the province to address critical issues such as classroom sizes and supports for high-needs students.

She said teachers want enough staff to be able to support students with speech and language issues or mental health challenges. 

"This is something that we've seen bargained in other provinces across Canada, so I don't know why they don't want to. They have the funds available," Becotte said.

"They just don't have the political will, I think. Kids just aren't high enough on the priority list for this government to start making those long-term commitments." 

The province and teachers have been at an impasse for months. Educators voted in October to support job action if negotiations stalled.

The union said teachers don't want to affect the school year and it's exhausting every option to get the province back to the table.

Becotte delivered 3,300 letters written by teachers and parents to the legislative offices of Premier Scott Moe and Education Minister Jeremy Cockrill. The union added that teachers and parents have also sent 9,400 emails to Moe and Cockrill, telling them to return to  bargaining.

She said the union is prepared to strike again, but it will depend on what the government does.

"We are ready to do what it takes to ensure that our students are supported in our classroom, to get the government to start paying attention and listening to the big issues," Becotte said.

Education Minister Jeremy Cockrill has said issues of classroom sizes and supports should be addressed outside a union contract. 

Cockrill told reporters he's drawn a line and won't bargain on those issues.

School boards are in the best position to deal with them, he said, because they understand what's happening in classrooms locally. 

"The bargaining process would kind of have a one-size-fits-all approach provincewide. I don't think that is what's best for Saskatchewan," he said. 

He said the province is spending $6.1 million on two pilot projects addressing classroom supports. One sets up separate classrooms in eight schools for students with behavioural issues. The other is a grant program that teachers can access.

Cockrill said the province will consider extending the pilot programs once they end in June 2025.

"If it's a good idea, we'll do more," he said.

"If it's a flop, I'll stand here and say, 'Hey it didn't work, let's go to the next idea.'"

Becotte said the province funds school boards, so it should ultimately be responsible for classroom sizes and supports. 

"(The government) is restricting local school divisions' abilities, so we need a long-term commitment to be able to address this," she said. 

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Jan. 15, 2024.

Jeremy Simes, The Canadian Press