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Teachers stage three-day walkout

As B.C. Teachers’ Federation leaders and supporters were in Victoria shouting “We will resist” outside the B.C. legislature, somewhat more subdued protests were occurring here in the Shuswap.

A dozen or so teachers carrying signs were walking up and down Main Street in Sicamous on Monday, smiling and waving as people drove by.

Teachers also rallied outside George Abbott’s office in Salmon Arm Tuesday at noon, waving protest signs and expressing their disapproval with the direction the province is taking when it comes to education. This follows a rally by students to support the teacher’s stand, which took place at the same location on Friday afternoon.

“Our LRT (learning resource teacher) got cut again this year, we have less CEAs (certified education assistant) this year than we’ve ever had. I think we have five and they’re not even full-time,”  says Eagle River Secondary teacher Desiree Marshall-Peer. “It’s beyond ridiculous the amount of services that have been cut from our schools in the last five years, let alone the last 10.”

Last week the BCTF received approval from the B.C. Labour Relations Board to escalate their job action with a three-day walkout that began Monday. The move was in response to the provincial government taking steps to legislate an end to the teachers’ job action, which began in September. Referred to as the “Education Improvement Act,” Bill 22 was introduced in the legislature on Tuesday. The bill forbids the B.C. Teachers’ Federation (BCTF) from striking or declaring a strike, and imposes severe fines for doing so.

The BCTF  is currently calling on the public to support teachers and their request for a negotiated contract agreement. Bill 22 allows for a mediated solution, but within the parameters of the B.C. government’s net-zero mandate on wages for public service sector employees.

The B.C. government, including Education Minister George Abbott, has been vocally supportive of the teachers’ right to strike. But Government House Leader Rich Coleman has warned that if they don’t go back to work on Thursday, they will be breaking the law. At the same time, both Abbott and Coleman have stated they have no plans to fast-track debate on Bill 22.

BCTF president Susan Lambert has stated teachers would “not accept legislation that erodes the quality of the system.”

Approximately 300 students left school an hour early to stage their own protest Friday afternoon in Salmon Arm. They marched in front of city hall, Abbott’s office and the school district office, carrying their own handmade posters and signs, in a demonstration of support for teachers.

“Students are not here just for the teachers; they are here for themselves and their futures,” said student Laurel Poloway.

“Teachers are not just doing this for the money,” said student Tegan Fitzpatrick. “It’s also about things like classroom size. I also know it’s affecting us too, as students.”

Students had hoped to take their message to Abbott directly, but the Shuswap MLA wasn’t available. So they asked Salmon Arm Mayor Nancy Cooper to pass it along for them. Cooper obliged.

Harley August-Sjodin of Shuswap Middle School was one of the students who met with Cooper and was pleased she agreed to talk to the provincial government.

“I support the teachers,” he said, noting that teachers don’t have enough time to help all the students.

In her letter to Abbott, Cooper says how she was impressed with the students and how, even though they may have had placards with differing messages, they were still able to stand united.

“I think we could all learn from their example,” writes Cooper. “Mr. Abbott, I know you were once an educator as well; therefore, this must be a difficult situation for you. I ask that you listen to the youth, as they are the voice of the future.

“When individuals are strong enough to speak up for what they believe in, take different sides and protest in a peaceful manner, this is democracy at its best.”

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