School officials’ leverage to demand better working conditions is taken to the next level: rapid tests are no longer distributed to students and COVID-related absences are no longer counted, creating turmoil in the school network.
School leaders negotiating with Quebec have been using coercive tactics since mid-May. In particular, they refuse to participate in accountability reports, polls or surveys by their school service center or the Ministère de l’Education. E-mails received in the evening or at the weekend remain unanswered, except in an emergency.
However, to increase pressure on the Legault government, over the past two weeks, school leaders have moved to “phase two” of their pressure tactics, which are now affecting COVID-19-related measures such as the distribution of tests, prompts and of records of absences.
“It affects everything that pertains to public health,” confirms Nicolas Prévost, president of the Quebec Federation of Educational Establishment Directors (FQDE).
“They’re readily available in pharmacies for rapid tests, so we thought it was no longer the school administration’s job to distribute them,” he explains.
Absences related to the virus are no longer counted because it is a measure that was not initially requested even by Public Health, adds the president of the FQDE.
These funds have an impact on the entire school network, as the three school governing federations form a “common front” both in their negotiations with Quebec and in their leverage, says Mr. Prévost.
However, these measures are causing a stir in the school network. Staff consider the COVID-19-related measures “untouchable” as they are health-related and protest that they are being used as leverage in ongoing negotiations.
Some also fear that other measures of an administrative nature could affect the organization of the current start of the school year.
The President of FQDE ensures that this is not the case. The only lever envisaged that could affect the return to school is a refusal to finalize agreements to host interns with universities next year if negotiations fail to materialize by the end of June, he says.
However, Nicolas Prévost is optimistic about this. “The talks are progressing,” he said.
For its part, the parents’ council did not want to comment on the situation because the student union was not directly affected, but is still hoping for a quick solution to the situation.
The office of Education Minister Jean-François Roberge also did not want to react because negotiations are ongoing.
After teachers were given pay rises that were described as “historic,” school administrators are demanding increases alongside COVID bonuses similar to those offered by the health network.