School District 20 teachers will be on the picket lines May 27 as part of a rotating strike throughout the province, the British Columbia Teachers’ Federation (BCTF) announced Tuesday.
The closures are part of a two-stage strike plan voted on by teachers in March when 89 per cent of the 29,300 teachers who cast ballots voted in favour as a means to apply pressure to the government during contract negotiations.
“We have been at the bargaining table for 16 months, and the provincial government and the BC Public School Employers’ Association still refuse to offer any improvements to class size, class composition and other important learning conditions for students,” Andy Davidoff, president of the Kootenay Columbia Teachers Union, said in a letter to the Trail Times.
“The constitutional rights of teachers can’t be swept under the carpet and the fundamental rights of children to a quality public education should also be respected.”
Lorraine Manning, SD20 board vice chair, said the board doesn’t really have much of a say on contract negotiations.
She admitted it’s frustrating to sit and wait for news that she simply has to accept.
While word of the walkout was still fresh when the Times caught up with her Tuesday, Manning said she expects that further discussion will be planned for the board meeting Monday.
News of the walkout arrived on the first day local students’ break times were cut by 15 minutes.
Locally this was done as a means of lessening the duty for district management staff, who were responsible for before-school, recess and after-school supervision since teachers refuse to perform those duties as part of their strike action. This means doing away with recess at the elementary level and altering the high school schedule so that students are now expected to sit through three classes before receiving their lunch break.
The decision was made last week to ensure student safety and reduce the burden on district management staff who already had full-time work to perform prior to covering all the supervision.
Without enough “excluded” staff to man the grounds, Manning said the board decided to approve the cancellation of recess brought forward by Greg Luterbach, superintendent of schools.
“At recess if you have 350 kids with one staff supervising we figured it was quite a safety factor,” she explained. “To me, it’s really a hardship on the parents too and I know that, but I know they’re trying to apply the pressure now to get a contract settled and if we can get a contract settled by the end of June it would be wonderful.”
Rossland parent Shannon Marion is “livid.” She has two high-energy boys who need a break to maintain their attention spans for learning.
“The teachers will suffer because the kids will be restless and inattentive and grumpy,” she said. “Energetic kids need to get out and run around and have a snack so that they can listen and participate willingly and enthusiastically until lunch time.
“Nobody wins here!”
After trying for almost three weeks to maintain the current schedule Luterbach admitted that district management staff could no longer continue to pull supervision duty along with their other responsibilities.
The BCTF began work-to-rule action in April, refusing supervision outside classrooms and communication with school management.