Full-scale teachers' strike underway

Jennifer Smith/Richard Rolke

Morning Star Staff

Both sides in B.C.’s education system are looking for middle ground before this week’s strike becomes permanently entrenched.

Full-scale action resulted in pickets going up around schools in the Vernon and North Okanagan-Shuswap districts Tuesday. That move by the B.C. Teachers Federation came after weekend talks with the B.C. Public School Employers’ Association stalled.

“We were quite optimistic Friday there would be an agreement over the weekend,” said Joe Rogers, Vernon School District superintendent.

“We’re still hoping it can be settled by the end of the month so we can start in September with a collective agreement.”

On Monday, hundreds of teachers marched along Vernon’s 32nd Street, trying to rally support from passing motorists.

“They are solid, united in their efforts to get a fair deal for teachers and better supports for our kids,” said Heather Malcolm, Vernon Teachers Association president, of her members.

“I was very hopeful that negotiations would go well over the weekend, I was very hopeful they would have reached a settlement. But the government didn’t come to the table with a mood to negotiate so now I’m still cautiously optimistic.”

Classes have been brought to a premature halt by the strike, but Grade 10, 11 and 12 students will write provincial exams as they have been deemed an essential service.

“We have designated the front door of all five secondary schools (in the Vernon district) as the entry and exit for exams so there will be no pickets,” said Rogers.

“High school busing will be available on the normal route so students can go to exams.”

Administrators will oversee the exams and mark some of them, while other exams will be marked at a central location in Vancouver.

Grade 12 students will also receive final report cards so they have transcripts for college and university, but there will not be report cards for kindergarten to Grade 11 students until the strike is over.

Similar activities are occurring in the North Okanagan-Shuswap School District.

“Our focus at this time is to ensure that the things that are permissible to go ahead for our students during this labour dispute go as well as possible,” said superintendent Glenn Borthistle of provincial exams and grad ceremonies.

“We continue to hope that there will be a negotiated agreement to resolve this provincial dispute before the end of the school year.”

At Kidston Elementary, the Grade 7 graduation ceremony proceeded Tuesday despite the strike.

“The school can’t do it so the parents have taken it on,” said Jeanette Lakusta, whose granddaughter is graduating.

“It’s really something how the parents have taken it on to do this.”

The Grade 7 students also had a three-day trip to Eagle Bay planned but the money was being administered by the school so it couldn’t be accessed.

“The disappointment in our kids eyes was horrible,” said Nicole Bush, a local parent.

But the trip is still a go thanks to a generous donation from a parent.

“We are making it happen,” said Bush. “With or without a teachers strike.”



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