With more rotating strikes and the possibility of a full-scale walkout on the horizon, local students expressed this week how the ongoing dispute between teachers and the province is hurting them.
“Some people don’t even know if they’re going to graduate because they don’t know if they’re passing their classes because their work hasn’t gotten marked because teachers haven’t had the chance to mark it,” said student trustee Maya Treuheit. “It’s not a good situation right now at all.”
Maya protested the dispute along with a dozen other leadership students from Chatelech Secondary School on June 3, while teachers were also picketing locally.
The teens set up their own protest at the corner of Trail Avenue and Highway 101 holding signs that said such things as: “Kids come first? You’re only thinking of yourselves” and “I’m tired of being stuck in the middle.”
Leadership student Robyn Edgar said most of the things she’s been looking forward to in her graduating year have been cancelled.
“I have eight days of school left and everything’s been cancelled — field trips, sports tournaments, band concerts and leadership events. We go to Bard on the Beach every year, and this year we might not be able to do it because the teachers are locked out and they aren’t covered by insurance,” Robyn said.
She added teachers can’t work with kids at lunch and after school under the lockout, to the detriment of students who need a little more help before exams.
“I feel everyone has really forgotten what the real purpose of school is. Teachers are there to support kids, but because they’re locked out they can’t give us the support we need,” she said.
Maya said the protest by Chatelech leadership students was not meant to pick a side in the dispute.
“We want people to understand that we are not taking sides in the dispute. We’re not on the side of the BCTF [B.C. Teachers’ Federation] and we’re not on the side of the government because we feel that neither side is in the right, that both sides are kind of acting very immaturely right now and we’re caught in the middle,” she said. “We’re not impressed with how the adults are acting right now, and we want to show them that we can practise what they taught us growing up, which is to put your differences aside and work together and be mature and be grown-ups.
“I just find it very hypocritical when adults especially try to teach their kids anti-bullying, and yet we see it so much within the government and within unions and between the two. It’s really, really hard to say, ‘we’re doing this for the kids,’ but to have them set this really not-good example for us. We’re trying to be the good example.”
Two other groups of students from Chatelech and Elphinstone Secondary School walked out of class on June 4 in protest of the dispute and in support of teachers.
The students were taking part in the province-wide event dubbed “Save our Students 2014 B.C. Student Walkout” that was started on Facebook.
About 25 students from Chatelech and the same number from Elphi left school at 9 a.m. and took to the streets with signs that read things such as: “negotiate, not legislate,” and “we support our teachers.”
Chatelech walkout organizer, Grade 9 student Melissa Campbell, said she wanted to organize the picket at the main intersection in Sechelt to let everyone know that many students support their teachers.
“We just want the government to negotiate with the BCTF and give them what they want basically,” Campbell said.
School District No. 46 (SD46) board chair Betty Baxter said the board is aware of the strain on students as the teachers’ dispute drags on; however, the school district was not in support of the student walkout on Wednesday.
“We want to reinforce and be very positive that the kids who were a little more thoughtful, a little more mature, made the choice to do it on a closed day and not miss more class. But we also so get it, that the kids are frustrated. It’s uncertain for them week to week, people can’t make plans, families can’t make plans, so it certainly is affecting us,” Baxter said.
She said the SD46 board was one of the first to write a letter to the government urging negotiations to happen in “good faith” and they plan to write another one soon to advise against the “intransigent bullying of each other that’s happening on each side of the table. The ‘we won’t move until you move,’ ‘you didn’t move enough,’ those kinds of things.”
Unfortunately writing letters is one of the few actions trustees can take, Baxter said, as the school trustees’ association is no longer part of the bargaining process.
“That puts school boards in this weird place of being observers, which we’re not very comfortable with because people elect us to govern,” Baxter said.
Most can only watch as the dispute between the province and teachers heats up.
This week the BCTF announced they’ll continue with rotating strikes next week (at press time the rotating strike date for SD46 was not yet known), and teachers will take a full-scale walkout vote on June 9 and 10. If approved by the majority of members, the BCTF could direct teachers to walk within three working days of a yes vote.
The BCTF decided to up their action after they lowered their wage demands by 0.25 per cent each year from July 2014 to January 2017. The government didn’t offer anything in return, BCTF president Jim Iker said Wednesday. On the same day, teachers heard from the Labour Relations Board that government’s 10 per cent pay cut to teachers was legal.
“This is never an easy decision because every single one of us wants the best for our students, but we believe that parents understand what we’re fighting for,” Iker said.
“We hope that the vote in itself will apply pressure to both sides and hopefully spur the movement needed from the employer that will help us reach a deal.”
The government responded once again saying their plan is to get a deal this month.
“While we are disappointed with the BCTF’s plans to escalate to a full walkout, this in no way changes our resolve to get an agreement by the end of June,” Education Minister Peter Fassbender said. “Our goal remains a lasting, negotiated settlement that ends the disruption for parents, students and teachers and puts the system on a path to stability before the start of the next school year.”
How this school year will end is still uncertain.
© Coast Reporter