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Local students staying home Friday amid CUPE strike

Students within the local public and Catholic school boards will be at home on Friday, in the wake of a Canadian Union of Public Employees (CUPE) strike.

Ontario's 55,000 education workers have walked off the job, despite the province's imposition of a four year contract banning a strike. Mediation talks between the two sides broke down late Thursday.

All of the unionized staff, at both boards, are CUPE members except for teachers and principals.

Lambton Kent District School Board Director of Education John Howitt said not having EAs, custodians, librarians and administrative staff will lead to unsafe and unclean facilities for students.

"Because of the extent of the responsibilities in keeping safe and clean facilities for our students, we will not be able to have our schools open if CUPE does not report to work," said Howitt. "We do have questions about Monday, but don't have sufficient understanding to know whether or not the political protest will continue into next week. We're committed to keeping families updated one way or another."

St. Clair Catholic District School Board Director of Education Scott Johnson is hopeful for a quick resolution.

"Sadly, we have to close schools until CUPE returns back to work," said Johnson. "We're really hoping that the province and CUPE together can find a peaceful resolution to this process so that we can get back to face-to-face learning."

The introduction of virtual learning in both boards is possible, should the strike continue into next week. Parents will be notified of the plans via email, and on the school board websites.

However, it may look a bit different than it did during the pandemic, since IT staff won't be working to facilitate the change.

Johnson said students won't be left to fend for themselves.

"We want to remind our families that if students are not well, they are encouraged to continue to reach out to the school and leverage our supports," he said. "We will have social workers and child and youth workers supporting student wellness if we're in a period of remote learning."

CUPE members will be picketing at MPP's offices, and not at the schools.

Members of OSSTF have voiced their support for CUPE staff, and have been encouraged to join the picket line outside of school hours.

Meanwhile, students at Conseil Scolaire Viamonde are being advised to report to class on Friday. The school board said it will make a decision over the weekend about what will happen next week as the situation evolves.

Schools within the Conseil scolaire catholique Providence are moving to remote learning for the time being and will keep parents updated of any changes.

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