Teachers Tyler Russell (left)

Teachers Tyler Russell (left)

Future uncertain for start of classes

Predictions are not being made on how long B.C. students could be out of class

Predictions are not being made on how long B.C. students could be out of class.

After failed talks with the provincial government, teachers resumed full picket duty Tuesday, meaning an extended summer break for students.

“I don’t have a crystal ball,” said Brenda O’Dell, North Okanagan-Shuswap Teachers Association president, when asked how long the dispute may last.

“I’m going on a week-by-week basis.”

Mediator Vince Ready walked away from the table on the weekend, saying the provincial government and the B.C. Teachers Federation are too far apart to end the current dispute.

“We’re very disappointed with the results of the mediation attempts. Teachers want to be in class and working with students,” said O’Dell.

“We need a government that makes meaningful moves.”

Government officials defend their position.

“Education Minister (Peter) Fassbender has been doing a fantastic job and the government hasn’t changed its view on what’s affordable,” said Greg Kyllo, Shuswap MLA.

“We don’t want to treat teachers any differently than other public sector workers (in terms of contracts).”

A sticking point is class size and composition.

“I don’t know if they expect us to bargain away what the Supreme Court awarded us but teachers won’t do that,” said O’Dell.

The government questions the recent court ruling that states removing class size and composition from the contract contravened teachers’ rights.

“There is an opportunity for an appeal and the government doesn’t believe it was outside of the framework,” said Kyllo.

The union is calling on parents and residents to contact MLAs over the dispute.

“Teachers are under pressure so we need to put pressure on the government,” said Heather Malcolm, Vernon Teachers Association president.

“We still have strong public support. Last week, people dropped by and said we can’t back down.”

Eric Foster, Vernon-Monashee MLA, admits he is hearing about the dispute.

“I’m getting all kinds of e-mails and calls from both sides. The overlying message is people want kids to go back to school,” he said.

Joe Rogers, Vernon School District superintendent, is urging parents to make their concerns known.

“Whether it’s to their MLA or the BCTF, parent pressure will help resolve this issue,” he said.

Schools are physically ready for students to return and principals have done some work on timetables. But the process is on hold until counsellors and teachers are back.

A major concern is Clarence Fulton Secondary School, which follows a quarter system. Students take two courses for 10 weeks.

“Every week they miss, that’s 10 per cent of that time. We will have to look at how to support those kids,” said Rogers.

To keep students active, the North Okanagan-Shuswap School District will provide samples of learning activities for parents to use with their children while the dispute continues.

“While we always encourage parents to be involved in their child’s learning, it is especially important now for them so they can be prepared for school to start when it does,” said Glenn Borthistle, district superintendent.

“This list of activities and resources will be posted on our website and facebook page for parents to refer to.”

Borthistle says the district also plans to keep parents up-to-date if the labour situation evolves.

“We fully appreciate that the labour dispute has created a lot of uncertainty, frustration and inconvenience for everyone,” he said.

“I look forward to soon having more positive news about the upcoming school year, and thank you for your continued patience during this extremely difficult time.”