Picketing teachers lined Lougheed Highway through much of Maple Ridge on Thursday morning – a line that stretched from 222nd Street to the junction of Dewdney Trunk Road.
It was the last day classes were to have been in session in the Maple Ridge-Pitt Meadows school district. The teachers’ strike lopped off the last two weeks of the year.
Maple Ridge Teachers’ Association president George Serra said the union wanted to make a strong public showing on the last day that all members would be on the picket lines.
School may be out, but the acrimonious labour dispute between the B.C. Teachers’ Federation and the provincial government continues unabated.
Summer school may not be available this year.
Education Minister Peter Fassbender asked teachers to end their strike to allow children to attend summer classes, but the union has said it will picket summer school sites, unless the strike ends by Monday.
“It is unfortunate that the BCTF leadership decided to strike summer school,” Fassbender responded. “Their decision today will impact thousands of students and it will do little to bring the parties closer to agreement.”
The B.C. Public School Employers’ Association, which negotiates on behalf of the province, has applied to the Labour Relations Board to have summer school declared an essential service. It would apply to remedial programs for students who failed a secondary level course.
It would not apply to secondary students trying to improve a passing a grade, international students or elementary level courses.
“While the British Columbia Public School Employers’ Association (BCPSEA) has an application before the Labour Relations Board to deem some aspects of summer school an essential service, this would only partially mitigate the impacts from the BCTF’s strike,” noted Fassbender.
The district is waiting for the LRB ruling before deciding whether to cancel summer school.
Some 650 students attended summer school in School District No. 42 last year.
On Friday, the school district released a letter to parents of students in elementary school, outlining that the dispute will mean students will not get their final report cards.
It says in part: “Although the circumstances of this job action have prevented the preparation of term three and final report cards, please know that your child will be assigned to the next grade level for September. All parents/guardians of students who will not be assigned to the next grade level have already been contacted.”
Parents of students in high school will receive different correspondence.
The LRB ruled that grading students in grades 10-12 is an essential service, so they will be graded. Teachers in the Maple Ridge-Pitt Meadows district have been instructed to be generous in their student evaluations for those in Grades 10 and 11. They are to pass those who are within about three per cent of a passing grade, and similarly to bump up the grades of students who are close to improving their mark.
Board spokesperson Irena Pochop said this is an acknowledgement that students typically “buckle down” and get better grades in the final term, but they did not have that opportunity this year, due to the strike.
The board has yet to clarify the report card situation for students in Grades 8 and 9, but the union has stated these students will not be getting marks for the final term.
The board is also waiting on an LRB decision that could declare Kanaka Creek elementary to be a special circumstance, because of its year-round calendar, and allow the school year to continue there. Otherwise, students there could miss six weeks of classes, and teachers would miss a month more of their pay than their counterparts on the traditional calendar.
BCTF president Jim Iker said Wednesday that the union negotiators will be prepared to work through the summer to get a deal.