Canada

Let kids celebrate Christmas at school, Education Minister Stephen Lecce tells Toronto Catholic teachers

Catholic elementary students in Toronto “deserve Christmas celebrations at their schools,” says Education Minister Stephen Lecce about a work-to-rule by their teachers that has put an end to holiday concerts, classroom door decoration contests and fundraising activities.

“Students have shouldered the worst of the pandemic, and we owe it to them to be prioritizing their mental health and academic success,” Lecce said in a statement to the Star. “Nothing should matter more.”

In a memo to members last week, the Toronto Elementary Catholic Teachers — also known as TECT — spelled out what holiday festivities would not be allowed. While teachers can attend mass or advent services, they can’t plan or take part in “activities such as school assemblies, submission of names for monthly virtue celebrations, participating in a school virtual Christmas concert, coaching fundraising activities, door decorating contests and/or a gingerbread contest.”

In response to Lecce’s comment, TECT President Julie Altomare-Di Nunzio said “Christmas celebrations continue in our classrooms. The full curriculum continues to be delivered.”

And “rather than interfering in local bargaining, Minister Lecce should be laser-focused on providing the necessary supports so that students can recover from the school years disrupted by the Ford government’s failure to address COVID-19. We do not take this job action lightly but our teachers have been without a contract since 2019.”

Altomare-Di Nunzio said while teachers may opt to make a gingerbread house as part of a classroom activity, they can’t partake in anything schoolwide.

The teachers’ work-to-rule has riled some parents, already upset over bare-bones report cards and no parent-teacher interviews.

Almost all teacher unions across the province, public and Catholic, have already hammered out local contracts.

Angela Kennedy, chair of the Toronto Catholic District School Board, called the job action “unacceptable,” and noted that it also includes a ban on performing gifted assessments on students, for which the board will dock pay.

While the union has said it wants a “status quo agreement … TECT has proposals on the table seeking to restrict the board’s current ability to manage staffing processes and problematic absenteeism,” Kennedy also said via email.

Altomare-Di Nunzio said the union has proposed bargaining dates and is eager to get a deal by the end of the year.

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