District defends decision

Vernon School District chairman responds to media coverage of teachers strike, and cancellation of recess

I would like to clarify the misinformation recently reported in the press regarding the current teachers’ strike and the cancellation of recess in the elementary schools.

The teachers’ strike has, indeed, had a negative impact on not only students and apparently on the teachers, but on the parents, board of education, district staff and school district management, school administration and support staff. Unfortunately, strikes by their very nature, are designed to create disruption, inconvenience and some form of negative impact.

Teachers voted to go on strike and as a consequence, it is not business as usual in our school district.

When the teachers chose to withdraw their recess supervision services, the district had to determine if it was in a position to continue to provide a recess break without the support of teacher supervisors. Two questions arose. Firstly, what was a safe level of recess supervision for each of our elementary schools and secondly, was there a sufficient number of exempt personnel (non-union personnel) available to provide that service.

The supervision duties would have to rely solely on school administrators and management as none of our CUPE personnel could be assigned to recess supervision nor could we hire additional support staff because their union has directed all of their members not to undertake any tasks that would normally have been done by the teachers.

The safe levels of supervision were based on the number of recess supervisors that each school would normally have if the strike had not taken place. These supervision levels were established to ensure student safety and were in place well before the teachers’ strike was initiated and include the principal and vice-principal as part of the supervision team.

There are 13 elementary schools in the Lumby, Coldstream and Vernon area, which also includes Beairsto Elementary, which, due to its large enrolment, would normally have two recesses — one for the primary students and one for the intermediate students.

In addition to the school administrators, the school district has very few non-union personnel. At best, the district could have 14 exempt staff available on any given day to supplement the school administrators. As well, all available exempt staff members are currently engaged in early morning student supervision at various schools. The number of supervisors required in the morning is considerably less than at recess since not all of the students arrive at school at the same time.

A review of the number of personnel available for recess supervision indicated that it would be physically impossible for 14 individuals to provide the normal level of supervision to our elementary schools without compromising student safety. To knowingly expose students to unsafe supervision conditions would have both moral and legal implications for the district.

To simply reduce the number of recess supervisors assigned to the respective schools is not a viable option because the district is not prepared to jeopardize student safety.

In addition, it must be recognized that members of our exempt staff (superintendent, secretary-treasurer, directors, operation supervisors, etc.) are critical to the effective operation of the school district and to expect them to be actively involved in supervision duties, beyond their current supervision commitments, would place the district in an impossible situation.

This has clearly been the case for the school districts that have most recently eliminated recess in their respective districts. The demands on their exempt staff members were simply too great to retain the recess break. There are currently 10 school districts that have eliminated recess and a number of others who have indicated that they will likely do so.

The 10 school districts include our two neighbouring districts which serve Salmon Arm, Armstrong, Lake Country, Kelowna, West Kelowna and Peachland.

The district has offered to work with the Vernon Teachers Association to determine if some arrangement could be reached whereby, with the support of the union, the teachers would return to providing supervision at recess, so that recess could be reinstated. The union, however, rejected our offer.

Bill Turanski,

Board Chairperson

 

Vernon School District

 

 

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