The teachers strike began Tuesday, with high school students left to prepare on their own, and the parents of elementary students wondering whether the school year is done.
Sabrina Mattson has a son in Grade 11 with four provincial exams to write, and no teachers to help him prepare in the final days.
“I’m worried how he’s going to do that,” she said. “Our teachers are excellent at SRT, they put in tons of extra time tutoring – I don’t know when they eat.”
Mattson is involved with parent advisory councils at both the secondary and elementary levels. She is the PAC chair for Samuel Robertson Technical, and also the DPAC representative for Alexander Robinson elementary.
She said elementary students, who were to remain in class until June 26, have also been frustrated by the situation, even if they aren’t taking exams.
Her son’s Grade 6 class had planned a trip to Daybreak Point for four days, but that year-end wrap-up event was lost. His teacher tried to make it up to the class by holding a “camp week” in the days before job action shut down schools.
They did many of the activities they would have done at Daybreak Point.
“He made it as fun as possible.”
Stacy MacLennan has been one of the organizers of the parent protests outside local MLA offices, asking for more funding in the public school system. There has been a lot of talk about the teachers strike at the eight rallies.
“People are really frustrated and upset that their kids are missing out on things,” she said.
MacLennan has sons in kindergarten and Grade 2, and both had field trips cancelled because of the government lockout. The elder was heading to Science World, while the younger one was bound for Belcarra Regional Park.
“It was anti-climactic – both of my sons were pretty upset when I told them that Friday might be their last day of school.”
Elementary parents are left in limbo, wondering if the two sides will resolve their dispute, or whether the school year is a write-off.
“We’re still waiting for a definite answer,” said MacLennan.
Mattson said she doesn’t blame the teachers.
“They had no choice but to do this – they’ve been without a contract for a year.”
She appreciates that teachers are arguing for small classes, and points out that they have two court victories on that matter.
“I can definitely see the impact of bigger classrooms and class composition,” she said. “I’ve been a school volunteer for 12 years, and I wouldn’t want their job.”
The RN noted there are 11 students in one grade who were identified as having special needs. To give teachers a functioning working environment, there should not be more than three such students in any given classroom, but that would require four different classrooms to spread the workload created by those 11 students.
“And for every kid who’s coded, there’s another one who is not yet identified.”
“I’m in there all the time, and I see what a struggle it is.”
MacLennan did not want to weigh in on bargaining issues publicly.
“For me, the issue is the adequate funding of schools. I’m not concerned with the teacher salaries – I just think it should be fair,” she said.
“Public education is a right that we have,” she added. “I would love to just get on with my life, and send my kids to school, and know they’re getting the opportunities that they deserve.”
The two sides said they would be bargaining through the weekend.
On Monday, BCTF president Jim Iker criticized the government negotiators, saying they received the union’s offer on Friday, and did not respond with a counter offer until Sunday evening. He said the teachers’ offer was within one per cent of that by the government offer.
Still, a full-scale strike went ahead Tuesday, when the two sides were set to resume negotiations.
“I appreciate that everyone – especially parents, students and teachers – had hoped to see an agreement over the weekend,” Education Minister Peter Fassbender said in a statement. “Our goal remains to get to an agreement by June 30 and put this disruption behind us. I’m certain that everyone involved wants to head into the summer with the assurance that our education system is on a path to long-term stability.”
The BCTF proposal asks for eight per cent over five years, and a $5,000 signing bonus.
The government, represented in negotiations by the B.C. Public Schools Employers’ Association, is offering seven per cent over six years, and a $1,200 signing bonus – which is conditional to the deal being ratified in June.
Class size is a point of contention. Whether teachers have a right to negotiate class size is a matter still before the courts.
The province wants class sizes set at the levels contained in the School Act to be added to the collective agreement. It would included $75 million in a Learning Improvement Fund to address issues of class size and composition.
The BCTF is asking for additional funds to resolve all the union’s outstanding grievances concerning class size. The amount is not yet tallied.
The union is also asking the province to establish a Workload Fund, which would be used to hire new teachers. No amount of funding is specified.
The issue of summer school has not yet been decided. If a deal is not reached, Fassbender has said the province will lift its lockout to allow teachers back to work. However, the union has not indicated whether it will lift its strike for summer students.