- Our Town
Strike shuts down classes
No new backpacks and notebooks, no excited talking in school corridors.
The first day of school came and went Tuesday in School District #83, with the impasse between the provincial government and the teachers’ union delaying the start of the year to an unknown date in the future.
“It’s a very sad day,” is how Glenn Borthistle, superintendent of schools, described Sept. 2. It’s the first time in his 25 years in education he’s known schools to be closed on the first day.
The front doors of schools in the district were open and principals were present, while teachers picketed outside.
It’s not likely schools will be operating for the rest of the week, Borthistle says.
“Like everybody else, we’re just waiting. Certainly we’ve been advised and can read for ourselves, there are no direct talks happening. It’s just not likely there will be school this week.”
Despite warnings from some that the strike will go into October, Borthistle says his opinion is that that won’t happen.
“I just can’t see it going that long. I think the pressure will be too great.”
The majority of calls the school district has received are from parents of students in grades 11 and 12, wondering what their children can do to prepare for their studies. He said the district will be putting information on its website (www.sd83.bc.ca) that they can refer to, but individual course content will be up to the teachers. As well, strike updates will be posted to the district’s Facebook page and Twitter site (@sd83schools). Once an agreement is reached, schools might not be able to open immediately because of the need for preparation time, he says, so parents are asked to check in with local updates.
Brenda O’Dell, president of the North Okanagan Shuswap Teachers Association, said teachers will keep picketing.
“Our plan for now is to keep applying pressure on government to bring resources to the table for a fair deal for teachers and more support for kids and classrooms.”
Some teachers were away last week but O’Dell said she is expecting picket lines to be fully staffed this week.
Because teachers are no longer receiving strike pay, there are no rules to compel them to picket. However, she said, the representatives she’s talked to are remaining strong in their commitment to get a fair deal and continue to fight to do that.
O’Dell noted that the BC Teachers Federation bargaining team dropped some of its proposals and reduced others over the weekend in order to get a deal.
“Unfortunately, government didn’t indicate they were willing to make any meaningful moves in return.”
She said the biggest sticking points are class size and composition, issues the Supreme Court ruled twice were illegally removed from contract bargaining by the government.
Overall, she said, teachers are very disappointed with the outcome of the talks.
“Teachers want to be back in their classrooms, supporting kids in their learning; they much prefer to be there than where we are right now.”
Government officials, meanwhile, 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).”
Regarding class size and composition, Kyllo says the government questions the most recent Supreme Court ruling.
“There is an opportunity for an appeal and the government doesn’t believe it was outside of the framework.”
At Ladybug Landing Childcare Centre in Salmon Arm, owner Leigh-Anne Chapman says children are definitely affected by the strike.
“The morale of the children – we have a bunch of kindies who are supposed to be starting school for the first time. That’s very devastating for them,” she says. “My heart particularly goes out to the little ones. They’ve been preparing for school for months, it’s their chance to be a big kid now.”
Although people assume the strike must be great for business, Chapman says it hasn’t been. Several of her clients are teachers, who can no longer afford daycare after being without pay for weeks. And many people are relying on friends, neighbours and families for child care.
With the school district the community’s biggest employer, she’s also heard many businesses have felt the impact of the strike and the school-opening delay.
She also notes that, for the first time in 11 years, the government has cut funding for program assistants, who provide help for children with special needs. That means her staff are overworked in order to properly support them.
“Christy Clark and her Families First. I’d like to know which families, because it’s certainly not the families of B.C.”
Things will get more complicated when preschool at the centre starts on Sept. 15, as it’s normally held in the morning in a room where the after-school care would be housed in the afternoon.
Parent Keren Huyter says she has been less affected by the strike than some as she works at home, but she says her children need to get back to school, they’re ready.
She and her four boys quickly made a sign each, “Hashtag, Hold the Line,” to show their support for teachers.
“I don’t know if I totally support everything the union is asking for, but what the government has been doing is outright illegal. We don’t need a dictatorship and we will stand with the teachers.”
At King’s Christian School, principal Jeff Covey says his school has seen an increase in enrolment, but it’s been for a mix of reasons.
“We’ve seen some in the public system choose our school, but all our growth is not attributed to that.”