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Students walk out of class in protest
Students in the Vernon School District joined in the province-wide walkout Wednesday morning to protest the ongoing dispute between teachers and the government.
At 9 a.m., Grade 10 students Sophie Sullivan and Jamie Kerr walked out the front door of W.L. Seaton secondary school, along with 20 or so other students.
Carrying handmade picket signs, the students waved as cars driving along 27th Street honked in support.
“When I was in elementary school, I wasn’t much of a reader and if it hadn’t been for my teachers encouraging and supporting me, I wouldn’t be where I am today,” said Sullivan. “So we are trying to get our point across.”
The B.C.-wide walkout was spearheaded by students in the Lower Mainland in response to the dispute between the B.C. Teachers’ Federation and the provincial government. This week marked the second of rotating strikes by teachers throughout the province, with Wednesday the only day this week when strike action was not planned.
“We support our teachers, and we’ve been here every day they have been on strike but we have been caught in the middle — we are the next generation,” said Kerr. “We don’t know if we’ll even be able to do our provincial exams because they might not have teachers available to mark them.”
Sullivan said the class size and composition issue is one that concerns her. When she signed up for a French class, there were only 15 to 20 students registered.
“You need to have 25 kids, so the class was cancelled and I had to take it online,” she said. “We want to be an educated society, but this is affecting students.”
While Sullivan is hopeful for a resolution, she also feels the government is not supporting teachers.
“They enjoy the teachers being on strike because they don’t have to pay them,” she said.
Grade 9 student Tyson Reschke also walked out to show his support for teachers.
“But we don’t care who wins, we just want it to be over,” he said. “It’s all about money, the way the government is handling it isn’t the best way they could. The strike has been going on for a long time but I think the teachers’ strikes could have an effect on how the government handles things.”
As Seaton principal Jackie Kersey kept an eye on her students, she said neither the school nor the district supports students walking out of classes.
“There are two concerns with this type of action: one is student safety and the other is that they are missing classes,” she said. “This is a crucial time for students and you’ll notice there are no Grade 12s out here because they don’t want to miss classes.”
Kersey and vice-principal Melissa Yurkowski hosted a lunch-hour meeting Thursday in the school library, to give students the opportunity to learn more about the current labour dispute.
“We do appreciate that students need to have a voice, but they do have that opportunity to come to a student voice meeting to learn about labour disputes and to look at constructive ways of doing things,” said Kersey. “We hope that students who have a sincere interest in bringing attention to how this labour dispute is affecting students will join us.”
The BCTF has announced it will hold another vote Monday and Tuesday to authorize full-scale strike action. Rotating strikes are to continue next week while the strike vote is held and counted.
“If approved, this would likely mean a full-scale strike within the next two weeks,” said BCTF president Jim Iker.