As the new school year begins, students in the Vernon School District will likely be cheering at the news that they will be let out of the classroom 15 minutes earlier than usual.
But they also won’t be getting their usual recess break in the morning, a measure the district is taking to compensate for the teachers’ strike which begins Tuesday at 7 a.m.
Vernon Teachers’ Association president Bruce Cummings said the job action means that teachers will teach and communicate with parents, but will not be performing administrative tasks.
“Our job actions will not change interactions with students or parents,” he said. “Job action is not something that we want to do, but we are faced with a necessity, because we are dealing with a government that is only giving the employer — the B.C. Teachers’ Federation — the mandate to get concessions or rollbacks, and in fact we’re not looking for that. We are looking for parity with other provinces.”
Cummings said in order to obtain a new collective agreement, teachers feel that they must make a stand and put pressure on government to allow free collective bargaining to take place. The teachers’ collective agreement expired in June 2011.
Teachers have three main objectives for this round of bargaining: teaching conditions that support all students; fair and reasonable salary and benefits; local solutions for local issues.
In a letter to the school district, Mark Olsen, president of CUPE, which represents district support staff, said his staff will not perform any work done by BCTF members.
“They will continue to perform their normal duties,” he said.
One of those duties is supervision outside of instructional time. Last week the district had a plan to provide the necessary supervision with administrators and district staff, but this week the district made the decision to cancel recess.
“In 2002, we had similar job action,” said Cummings. “There were more students but the same number of administrators and the district did not cancel recess, so we have to wonder what is different this time.”
District superintendent Bev Rundell said phase one of the strike will result in the withdrawal of some teacher administrative duties as well as the removal of teacher supervision responsibilities outside of instructional time.
The result will be to shorten the school day by 15 minutes, with students being dismissed 15 minutes earlier than usual, and district bus schedules adjusted accordingly.
“It’s different than in 2002 because we don’t know how long this strike is going to last,” said Rundell. “Last time it was two weeks, from all indications from our union this one will be longer, so we couldn’t continue to do the work.
“This time, we also have less staff, district principals and vice-principals and the needs of the schools in terms of supervision haven’t changed, and it’s also, how do we continue the work of the district.”
But Rundell wants to reassure parents of elementary school children that there is a requirement for 30 minutes of daily activity.
“Teachers can take their students outside during classroom time, whether it’s going for a walk around the school or doing some kind of activity in the playground,” she said.
Cummings said there is a positive side to the job action.
“In fact I think you’re going to see an enhanced quality of teaching because teachers don’t have to rush off to meetings,” he said, adding that as a result of the government’s chronic underfunding of education, the district laid off 125 teachers in June, although most have been recalled to work.
“Between 25 and 50 teachers have either not been recalled or are underemployed compared to last year. Teachers are again facing more students in their classrooms with fewer specialist teachers such as teacher librarians, school counsellors and learning assistance teachers, and students have fewer choices as elective courses.
“The government has chosen where it’s going to spend its money, such as a new roof for an Olympic stadium, and not into education, and they are acting in a very disrespectful manner for the educators in the whole system.”
There will be no picket lines as part of phase one of the job action, but teachers won’t be performing any administrative duties such as filling out forms, collecting data, meeting with principals or other administrators, supervising on playgrounds or writing report cards.
“Parents will know how their kids are doing at all times, all they need to do is contact the teacher, many of whom make use of Facebook and e-mail as well,” said Cummings.
Rundell said fewer students in the district means less money from the government.
“But our costs are rising like everyone’s costs,” she said. “We’ve never started a school year on strike, so it’s very different for all of us, for the teachers’ union and ourselves, but we have a positive relationship with the Vernon Teachers’ Association, and I believe we still have a great education system.”