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By Ruby Pratka

Local Journalism Initiative

Sutton Elementary School, Massey-Vanier High School and the Campus Brome-Missisquoi vocational training centre will close Nov. 21 for at least three days and “potentially much longer” due to two separate teachers’ strikes, Eastern Townships School Board (ETSB) chairperson Michael Murray has said.

The three schools are jointly administered by the ETSB and the French-language Centre des services scolaire Val-des-Cerfs (CSSVDC). ETSB teachers are represented by the Appalachian Teachers’ Association (ATA), a member of the Quebec Provincial Association of Teachers (QPAT) which is part of the Front Commun negotiating bloc of four large union federations; CSSVDC teachers are represented by the Syndicat d’enseignement Haute-Yamaska (SEHY) which is part of the Fédération autonome de l’enseignement (FAE), which is not part of the Front Commun.

Both the Front Commun and the FAE are negotiating a new collective agreement with the provincial government, but the two federations have taken slightly different tactics. Front Commun members will hold a three-day strike from Nov. 21-23; FAE members plan to launch an unlimited general strike on Nov. 23.

SEHY president Sophie Veilleux has said picket lines around CSSVDC schools, including the three jointly administered schools, will be “watertight.” QPAT president Stephen Le Sueur has said ATA members won’t cross SEHY picket lines, forcing the English sectors of the three bilingual schools to close for the duration of the SEHY strike. Other ETSB schools are expected to reopen Nov. 24.

“Before students [at the three schools] leave on [Nov. 20], we will have wound up the first term. Students are aware that they will be off for at least six days and potentially much longer. Teachers can share reading lists with students, and so forth, so students can do some independent study, but we don’t have a systematic means of resuming instruction,” said ETSB chairperson Michael Murray. “[Education Minister] Bernard Drainville has said this isn’t a holiday [for students], but we have yet to find a practical way to teach without teachers.” He added that the school board would not pressure teachers to cross SEHY picket lines, and that asking teachers to shift to online learning is “not a viable long-term solution.”

Veilleux said FAE members voted for an unlimited general strike because “there have been no significant advances” in negotiations between teachers and the government over the last several months. She said members are concerned about staffing shortages, wages, insufficient support for students with disabilities and newly arrived immigrant students, and promised help that never comes. “When a student needs a special education technician, don’t tell us that the technician is coming [eventually] – the person needs to be there,” she said.

Veilleux said she hoped the strike would be as short as possible, adding that the union had no strike fund for its members. “We want a quick, satisfying agreement, and we want the things we agreed to be applicable at the beginning of the next school year, and for that, we need an agreement in principle before Christmas. We understand the inconvenience this can cause, and we’re not doing it for fun.”

Le Sueur raised several of the same concerns as Veilleux about working conditions, and said QPAT teachers could join FAE teachers in an unlimited general strike if negotiations don’t move forward in the coming weeks. “The way things are moving at the table, that’s certainly a possibility. It would be a disappointment, but we have to do what we have to do,” he said.

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