Music and speeches galvanize teachers at Port Coquitlam rally

Teachers rally in Port Coquitlam on Friday afternoon. - DIANE STRANDBERG/THE TRI-CITY NEWS
Teachers rally in Port Coquitlam on Friday afternoon.

It was half folk festival, half protest rally as hundreds of School District 43 teachers and their supporters marched from Port Coquitlam schools to Leigh Square for music and speeches Friday afternoon.

But despite the festive note from band teachers playing folksy tunes, many of the comments from speakers took a serious note as representatives from the Coquitlam Teachers' Association and the provincial NDP called on the government for more funding and a return to the bargaining table.

CTA president Charley King told the crowd that the uncertainty wrought by teacher negotiations — including a planned walkout in SD43 on Wednesday and a partial lockout starting Monday — would be bad for families.

He called on the government to settle for a "fair deal for teachers and for kids."

Port Coquitlam MLA Mike Farnworth was on hand for the event, as was NDP education critic Rob Fleming. Both condemned the government for not returning to the bargaining table to resolve teacher negotiations on the weekend.

CTA vice-president Chris King also enlivened the crowd by waving a "Solidarity" flag, while members of the Essential Services Band, made up of Pitt River, Banting, Montgomery, and Maple Creek middle school teachers played lively tunes.

King also raised concerns as to why SD43 trustees weren't at the rally, asking them to step forward and clap. When no one responded, King said, "that's a bad sign."

King and Maple Ridge Teachers' Association president George Serra called on the crowd to make sure to vote in the November civic election and to support candidates who stand up for education funding.

Although the rally brought a large crowd of teachers to Leigh Square, it remains uncertain as to whether an agreement can be reached soon to ensure school activities, including graduation and end of the year concerts, carry on.

However, BC Public Schools Employers' Association chief negotiator Peter Cameron said this week that the lockout terms match existing union work hour restrictions and do not interfere with voluntary activity. Teachers can choose not to contact parents or take part in graduation, but the lockout doesn't prevent that and there is no pay to cut for such volunteer activities, Cameron said.

BCPSEA administrator Michael Marchbank notified the union of the lockout terms in a letter delivered Wednesday. The letter also confirmed that if no agreement is reached, secondary school teachers will be locked out June 25 and 26, and all BCTF members will be locked out June 27, the last day of the school year for most schools.

The BC Teachers' Federation, meanwhile, says the year-end lockout may disrupt report cards and marking of provincial exams for graduating students.

Cameron replied that most provincial exams are unaffected, and teachers administering English 10 and Social Studies 11 exams on June 24 will be exempted from the lockout so they can mark them.

— with files from Tom Fletcher

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