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Full-scale strike could end classes early

Teachers Laurel McEachnie (front left) and Kristen Dion (right) walk the picket line at Alexis Park Elementary School Wednesday with Denise Lauson (back left) and Louise Alexander. - lisa vandervelde/Morning Star
Teachers Laurel McEachnie (front left) and Kristen Dion (right) walk the picket line at Alexis Park Elementary School Wednesday with Denise Lauson (back left) and Louise Alexander.
— image credit: lisa vandervelde/Morning Star

Teachers are preparing to escalate job action, but there is cautious optimism that can be avoided.

A full-scale strike at schools could begin Tuesday after 86 per cent of teachers provincewide voted earlier this week to move beyond rotating pickets. With teachers holding a study session Monday, that means today could possibly be the end of the school year.

“My heart sunk when I saw the news that we’re going to full withdrawal of services, but I am more hopeful now,” said Heather Malcolm, Vernon Teachers’ Association president, who would like to see the union and the employer reach a deal over the weekend.

“So it may turn out to be a ratification vote and not a strike vote — we are hopeful that this will be resolved and avoid a full walk out.”

The Vernon and North Okanagan-Shuswap school districts are preparing for a full strike next week.

“If an agreement is not reached, we are requesting parents keep their children home or make alternate arrangements beginning Monday until further notice,” said Joe Rogers, Vernon superintendent, in a letter to parents.

The Labour Relations Board has designated provincial exams as essential and these will continue during a strike. Students will not have to cross a picket line to write their exams.

“Administrators will cover all of the provincial exams, and Grade 12 teachers are the only ones required to submit marks, so there will be no kindergarten to Grade 11 report cards until the strike is over,” said Rogers.

The North Okanagan-Shuswap district has also sent a similar letter home to parents.

“This is not the way we had hoped the school year would be ending. We regret the issues this ongoing provincial dispute may be causing your family and it is the sincere hope of the board of education that this dispute will soon be over,” states the letter.

All graduation ceremonies will be going ahead in both districts as planned, with support from school and district management staff.

Students in both districts were asked to empty their desks and lockers at the end of classes today.

Education Minister Peter Fassbender says the government’s goal is to have an agreement with teachers by June 30.

“The B.C. Teachers’ Federation has said they want to avoid the strike and they are ready to bargain through the weekend. The B.C. Public School Employers’ Association will be there,” he said.

“It took support staff unions five days of hard bargaining to get to an agreement. We can achieve the same thing with teachers if the BCTF comes to  the table with realistic expectations and a willingness to find solutions.”

“Up to now, the BCTF’s total compensation demands have been four times more than other recent settlements. The BCTF has indicated that they will submit a new wage proposal and BCPSEA looks forward to receiving those.”

Malcolm wants to see some flexibility on the part of Fassbender.

“The government needs to commit resources to improving learning conditions. The employer has made some moves and the BCTF has made some moves and now it’s a chess game and it’s up to the government,” she said.

“We want to thank parents for their support and encourage everyone who cares about public education to contact Eric Foster, our MLA, and demand change from this government.”

 

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