The frustration of Greater Victoria teachers was palpable in downtown Victoria this week, as about 300 teachers and supporters picketed the offices of the B.C. Ministry of Education to protest ongoing labour negotiations.
On Tuesday night, teachers voted 86 per cent in favour of a full walkout to put maximum pressure on the provincial government at the bargaining table.
Should no deal be reached, the earliest possible date for school closures across B.C. would be Monday, June 16 and that could impact the last nine days of the school year.
“Parents are telling me they’re taking their kids out of public school to put them in private school, and it’s for exactly the reasons we’re fighting here: smaller classes, one-to-one support, teacher-librarian full-time,” said Benula Larsen, Greater Victoria Teachers Association president.
A full strike would close elementary and middle schools – parents will be advised to make child care arrangements if necessary – while secondary schools would be open only to conduct exams for Grade 10 to 12 students.
High school teacher and Fairfield resident Jeff Laird said he supports the strike vote because classroom pressures have never been worse, as both the number of students and special needs students without additional support continue to increase.
“The kids who need a standard education are not getting it because we’re busy putting out fires with a few students rather than teaching classes,” he said. “What really brought it home is when my four-year-old, Finnegan, is ready for school, I’m worried about the quality of his education.”
Saanich teacher Nessie Magee said she’s frustrated many people continue to believe the labour dispute comes down to teacher salaries. The focus, she said, has always been on class size and composition.
“This is about the disparity between public education and private education. Right now, our kids are not getting equal opportunity of education. I’ve been teaching since 1983 and I’ve never seen the state of education in as disrepair as it is right now,” Magee said.
The province has pledged to end its partial lockout of teachers at the end of the school year to allow for summer school. Education Minister Peter Fassbender said he hopes all parties can end the school year on a positive note by reaching a realistic labour deal with teachers.
“Teachers deserve a raise but their total compensation demands are about four times more than other recent settlements,” he said.
The government has twice been ordered by the B.C. Supreme Court to allow teachers control over class sizes and staffing levels, a provision that was stripped from their contracts in 2002.
The government is appealing the ruling, but the case won’t be heard until this fall.
“The Liberals have it in their power to bargain on class size and composition, but they continue to refuse to do so, despite being ordered twice to do so by the Supreme Court,” said education critic Rob Fleming, Victoria-Swan Lake MLA. “If they put that issue on the table, then I think there’s a deal to be had here.”
-with files from Jeff Nagel
What the full strike would mean for Kindergarten up to Grade 9 students:
• Schools closed.
• Parents should make child care arrangements, where required.
• Final report cards will be sent to parents, but written comments may be shorter than usual.
What the full strike would mean for students in Grades 10 to 12:
• Secondary schools likely only open for exams.
• Picket lines outside schools.
• No rural school bus service.
• Provincial exams marked and final marks sent out in timely manner.