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One-day Ontario teacher strike leaves families to rely on each other

As he watches his daughter Sarah help give figure skating lessons to younger kids taking their first tentative strides, Tim MacFarlane smiles. Not everyone is as lucky as they are — some will need a helping hand.

It’s as true for skating as it is for families struggling to cope with the one-day teacher strikes scheduled this week.

When public elementary schools close across much of the GTA in what is being called “Super Tuesday,” Sarah has a grandmother at home to take care of her. But MacFarlane knows this isn’t the case for each of the hundreds of thousands of families who will be scrambling to find accommodation for their kids.

“A lot of parents don’t have money, can’t pay for extra child care” said MacFarlane, who sits on the board of Superfriends daycare at Huron Street Public School. Like many daycare programs across the city, they’re staying open all day to take the pressure off parents and help where they can.

“Knowing the situations of the families in our daycare, we had to stay open for them,” he said.

Elementary school teachers in Halton announced Sunday that they would strike Wednesday, turning Super Tuesday into a super week of rotating strikes across the province and leaving parents in the lurch. Along with Halton, elementary teachers in Algoma, near Sault Ste Marie and Bluewater, near Sarnia, announced Sunday they too would strike Wednesday, in the final week of classes before the holiday break.

Super Tuesday will still hit the GTA hardest as teachers with the Toronto, Peel and Durham public elementary boards walk off the job and shut down schools. They will be joined by teachers at five other boards across Ontario: Greater Essex in the Windsor area, Lambton-Kent in Sarnia and Chatham, Waterloo, Grand Erie in Brantford and Near North in North Bay.

Some 339,000 students at 761 schools in the GTA will be without classes Tuesday, according to a tally of elementary students and schools reported by each board. Halton’s walkout will affect another 40,000 students at 83 schools on Wednesday.

While many of the parents who spoke to Torstar News Service Sunday said they had already made arrangements to care for their kids during the strike, some said they had no other choice but to bring them to work, and others were left scrambling for other options.

“It’s a really big concern for us,” said Van Nguyen, an aluminum factory worker who has two kids, Nam and Trang, in Grade 2 and kindergarten at Queen Victoria school.

He can’t take his kids to work and his wife, a restaurant manager, doesn’t get home until 11 p.m.

“We’re going to have to find someone to take care of the kids,” he said, hoping they’ll be able to go to the library with family friends or neighbours.

Many families are taking advantage of a parent who works at home or a family member who has already made themselves available to care for a younger sibling not yet in school.

Penpa Tshering normally picks up his granddaughter Tenzing from Queen Victoria School everyday, but will care for the Grade 2 student for the whole day Tuesday.

“I’m retired,” he said. “For me it makes no difference. But it will be difficult for those who work.”

Families will get through the strike day by helping each other out, says Sarah Orenstein, who has a son in Grade 7 at Spectrum school. Orenstein has offered to take her friends’ kids for the day as well.

“It’s not such a big deal because they’re not so little anymore,” she said.

Students at Dewson Street Public School normally enrolled in after school care will also have their child care extended all day, said Michael Angel, whose boys Charlie and Jack are in Grades 3 and 1 there.

Back at Moss Park Arena, Sarah skates between the cones during a Central Toronto Skating Club practice. The arena won’t be open during the strike Tuesday, but with only a week of school left before the holidays, most parents on hand say they’ll be able to cope.

“The strike doesn’t bother me, it’s only one day,” said MacFarlane. But if there are more, he says, he’ll have to put Sarah in daycare for the whole day like everyone else.

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