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Teachers strike shuts down Ontario schools

North America's largest teachers strike swept Ontario on Monday as a walkout by 126,000 unionized teachers kept 2.1-million students from their classes in Canada's most populous province.

Ontario Premier Mike Harris said his government was considering legal action, including an injunction to force teachers back to work after the strike closed nearly all of the 4,742 public and Catholic schools in the province.

"There are remedies to deal with illegal situations, and we'll have to call in all the legal advice that we can," Harris said.

The strike is effectively a power struggle between the teachers unions and Ontario's Conservative government over the future of education in the province.

Teachers oppose government proposals that would cut education spending and overhaul management of Ontario's schools, which have been criticized for mediocre standards and performance, despite heavy spending on education.

The government wants to cut preparation time for high school teachers, control class sizes, set education property tax rates and allow non-certified teachers in classrooms.

The teachers contend that the government wants to seize control of practices shaped by collective bargaining. They also fear up to 10,000 jobs could be lost.

In Toronto, thousands of teachers abandoned picket lines after successfully blockading schools and massed at the Ontario legislature building in a show of solidarity.

Ontario Teachers' Federation president Eileen Lennon called the strike the most significant protest in the province's history.

"This would be completely contrary to 150 years of local decision-making for schools in Ontario. There will be practically no local decision-making left. It's just not going to be workable," Lennon told the crowd.

Talks between the government and the teachers broke off Sunday and no negotiations are scheduled.

Working parents scrambled to make arrangements for child care as the government promised financial help for those forced to miss work to care for their children.

The province has offered to reimburse parents the equivalent of $30 (U.S.) a day for child-care costs and is offering home tutoring on the Internet.

_ Information from the New York Times was used in this report.