There was no end in sight to the B.C. teachers’ dispute as of Thursday afternoon.
Bargaining teams for the B.C. government and the B.C. Teachers’ Federation met behind closed doors in Richmond with mediator Vince Ready to discuss a way forward, but did not reach an agreement by press time.
Superintendent of Schools for the Okanagan-Skaha district, Wendy Hyer, said in a media release on Friday morning they are still uncertain as to whether schools will be able to open following the Labour Day weekend.
“There is still a chance that the two sides may be able to reach a settlement in the next few days, however, parents and guardians are encouraged to consider alternate arrangements for their children should this not happen,” said Hyer.
If there is a settlement over the Labour Day weekend, Hyer said it is their hope the schools will open Sept. 2.
“If there is no settlement, it is anticipated that schools will remain behind picket lines with only school administrators on-site. In this scenario, parents would be asked to make alternate arrangements for their children, as it would be impossible to offer and educational program. nor can we ensure adequate supervision of students,” said Hyer.
Prior to the meeting on Thursday, Education Minister Peter Fassbender called on the BCTF to ask its members if they’d be willing to commit to go back to work for two weeks so the school year can start on time on Tuesday while negotiations begin in earnest.
Fassbender asked for BCTF members to be canvassed after Iker said earlier in the week he couldn’t arbitrarily end the strike without first consulting teachers.
“I had hoped, maybe unrealistically, that Mr. Iker was in a position to agree that there was nothing there that compromised their ability to negotiate with a mediator in the room,” Fassbender said in an interview with Black Press.
“We are just asking them to voluntarily stand down and let classes start while the parties are in mediation.”
The B.C. Public School Employers’ Association would also suspend lockout activity if the truce goes ahead.
Ready is only expected to enter full mediation if he determines the two sides are close enough to put a deal in reach.
Fassbender’s proposal also calls on the union to set aside potential grievances arising from the last court ruling on class size and composition, now under appeal by the province.
He said that would leave the issue — potentially a liability of nearly $250 million a year for the province — to the B.C. Court of Appeal to decide.
Fassbender said setting aside the grievances isn’t a precondition for mediation but believes doing so would allow focused talks on the key issues — wages, class size and composition — and potentially get the sides into the settlement zone Ready requires.
After a relatively quiet summer, teachers began picketing schools again this week, although they insist they’re locked out rather than on strike. Teachers have been without a contract since June 2013.
Principals and vice-princials may be the only staff on-site at local schools to respond to requests from parents and students as picket lines went up last week. Hyer said new families who moved into a school’s attendance area over the summer can register the student online at www.sd67.bc.ca. Supporting documents can be dropped off, emailed or faxed to each child’s school. Parents will also be able to bring this information to the school following the conclusion of the labour dispute.
Requests for transfers will be processed as soon as normal operations resume and administrators are able to complete accurate student counts to determine available space.