SUDBURY -- As education workers in the secondary school system pause their ongoing strike action for exams, educators in the public elementary and English Catholic school systems are ramping up.

Now, millions of students and parents in Ontario once again find themselves caught in the crosshairs of the escalating fight between teachers unions and the province.

Elementary Teachers' Federation of Ontario President Sam Hammond announced Sunday that the Ontario North East School Board will hold a one day walk-out Friday Jan. 24.

Last week, it was announced that members of the Ontario English Catholic Teachers' Association across the province will hold a one-day strike Tuesday, Jan. 21 and ETFO members in the the Rainbow District School Board will hold a one-day strike on Wednesday, Jan. 22.

This means all four teachers unions are now engaged in some form of job action amid a bitter round of contract negotiations with the conservative government. 

ETFO represents 83,000 elementary public school teachers, occasional teachers and education professionals across the province, while OECTA represents almost 45,000 teachers working in publicly-funded English Catholic schools.

"For 29 days, Minister Lecce has refused to return to contract talks with ETFO even though we tabled revised proposals in our last session on December 19, 2019," Hammond said in a release. "We can only assume that the Ford government does not want to discuss key issues for students, student learning and educators in public elementary education. They only want to talk about cuts to public education."

"It has become clear that this government will only do the right thing when they are under pressure from Ontarians. They have left us little choice but to take the next legal step in the bargaining process," says OECTA President Liz Stuart.

"Of course teachers would rather be in the classroom, but the government needs to recognize that we are united in opposition to their cuts, and we cannot accept an agreement that would have devastating, long-term consequences for our students and schools. We appreciate that strike action will be difficult for parents, but we are confident they will understand our need to demonstrate our resolve to protect our world-class education system," said Stuart.

The walk-outs are part of ongoing contract disputes between the various teachers’ unions and the provincial government. The unions say the big issues are class sizes, which the Ford government wants to increase the averages of, and cuts to services. Ministry of Education officials say the stumbling block is wages.

OECTA says the provice-wide withdrawal of services will be the first of its kind for Catholic teachers in more than 20 years.

"The government’s claim that this is a common occurrence is an insult to Ontarians’ intelligence," says Stuart. "Negotiations are always tough, but teachers have only had to take this type of action when our rights and working conditions, and the learning conditions of our students, have been under direct attack. The only thing cyclical about this situation is that when a Conservative government comes to power in this province, Ontarians are forced to take extraordinary measures to defend our vital public services."