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Optimism is abound at Kanaka Creek elementary

Picketing teachers at Kanaka Creek elementary see an end in sight; while a canine picketer has a “bone to pick with BCPSEA.”  - Colleen Flanagan/The News
Picketing teachers at Kanaka Creek elementary see an end in sight; while a canine picketer has a “bone to pick with BCPSEA.”
— image credit: Colleen Flanagan/The News

It’s almost summer for most students and teachers, and the union’s labour battle with the province will no longer be a disruption in their normal summertime routines.

But for the students and teachers of Kanaka Creek elementary, with its balanced calendar, the strike could take another month out of their school year.

Wednesday was scheduled to be the last day for elementary students across the district, so including the three days lost to rotating strikes, most will have lost 11 days of instruction.

The Kanaka Creek kids stand to lose six weeks – the strike began right in the middle of their third and final three-month term. Their school year doesn’t end until July 24.

Parents are angry that their kids are collateral damage in yet another school job action.

“I field a few calls every day, and of course they’re upset,” said principal Katie Sullivan. “They’re looking for answers, and I have none.”

She has requested that the schools with year-round calendars be exempted from the strike, but it will be up to the BCTF or BCPSEA to petition the Labour Relations Board.

Kanaka students attend three-month semesters with a month off after teach – a balanced calendar.

“We like that each term you work really had, and then you have a one-month break,” said Sullivan. “It has a nice rhythm to the school year. Every teacher who starts here, retires here.”

Sullivan said the strike is hurtful to the 587 elementary students, on a couple of levels. For young students, they didn’t get a chance to say their goodbyes to teachers they have bonded with for a year. Those are important relationships in their lives, Sullivan said.

“There’s no closure to the school year,” she added. “And academically, it might be a struggle for some of our Grade 7s to transition.”

That’s the worry for parents too.

“It’s an emotional time for all of us, for sure,” said Deanna Lackey, treasurer of the Kanaka Creek Parent Advisory Council. “It’s a predicament for us – more so than other schools.”

Her son is in Grade 7.

“And and his classmates are my big concern right now – they have six weeks of curriculum they will miss.”

When he arrives at Thomas Haney secondary for Grade 8, his teachers will expect him to be up to date.

Lackey said he is a good student, brought his books home, and they haven’t been collecting dust.

“We’ve explained to him – you’re not on summer vacation yet.”

The number of balanced-calendar schools in the province is too small – five in total – to be a consideration for the negotiating parties, said Lackey.

“The fear for parents in our situation is we have been forgotten. We’re an oddity in the school system, but nobody should be forgotten.”

On the picket line in front of Kanaka Creek, teachers are staying positive. Wednesday morning about every third car would honk support. One woman leaned out her SUV and yelled, “Give our teachers a fair deal.”

Another woman dropped off a box of cookies and wished them good luck.

One of the picketers brought a tiny terrier wearing a bone-shaped sign that read: “I’ve got a bone to pick with the BCPSEA.”

The Maple Ridge Teachers’ Association remains hopeful a deal will get done soon.

Lucinda Tooker, staff rep for the MRTA, predicts one will be reached by the end of June, and Kanaka staff will return to class.

“We can absolutely make it up,” she said of missed class time.

On the traditional school calendar, teachers can burn out by the end of the year, she said. But that is when the Kanaka staff is really hitting its stride. The end of the year is some of their most productive days.

“There’s a lot of rhetoric going around, but that’s a lot of posturing,” Tooker said. “They’re already so close at the table.”

Thursday, the BCTF asked for a mediator to get involved in negotiations. However, Education Minister Peter Fassbender responded that the government is not willing to call one in.

The Kanaka Creek teachers are not willing to speculate what will happen if they are forced to picket through July. They do, however, have an informal pool on when the strike will end.

Tooker figures that BCPSEA lead negotiator Peter Cameron has a contract that pays him $225 per hour, and he will get the most out of it.

“When his contract runs out on June 30, we’ll have a deal,” she predicted.

For Lackey’s Grade 7, this is his third labour dispute at school.

“We would like some stability. I have a daughter in Grade 2, and I would like this to be her only disruption.”

• See related story: Teacher demands 'too high' for mediation

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