B.C. teachers remain defiant 

Striking teachers walk the picket lines as union and government face-off

Teachers on the picket line were resigned but distressed as their strike continued across the province this week.

"It is not good for anyone, especially the kids and for us, but we have to take a stand," said Pemberton teacher David Lord as he joined picketing Whistler Secondary teachers Wednesday.

"We got our collective bargaining rights stripped and the government doesn’t want to address any of the issues we are concerned about, such as class sizes and special education funding, and I think we deserve a fair wage increase."

By deadline Wednesday the situation seemed to be escalating with education Minister Shirley Bond stating that the government would try to protect teachers who decided to defy their union, the B.C. Teachers Federation, and cross the picket line.

Bond pointed out that only about half the teachers eligible to vote actually cast ballots last week when the union asked them if they should strike.

Separately, Labour Minister Mike DeJong said on CBC radio that he won’t talk to teachers until they go back to work.

BCTF president Jenny Sims reiterated that the teachers won’t go back to work until a negotiated settlement was in place and she was prepared to go to jail if that’s what it took.

Teachers should learn today at a B.C. Supreme Court hearing what type of fine the union could face if they continue their wildcat strike.

As teachers on the picket lines tried to stay warm and dry in Whistler they hoped for a speedy resolution.

"The main thing… teachers want to get out is the fact that we are concerned about what is going on with class sizes," said teacher Dawn Titus as passing cars honked in support. "We feel the kids are just not being provided the education they deserve and as teachers it is very difficult to do your job with that many students in the classroom.

"I think parents have huge concerns about the numbers in the classroom and that is why we are getting the support that we have."

The B.C. School Act limits classes to a maximum of 22 in kindergarten and 24 students in Grades 1-3. In Grades 4-12, classes must not average more than 30 district-wide.

The BCTF wants the issue to be returned to collective bargaining.

In Howe Sound the latest school board figures show that the average intermediate (Grades 3-7) class size in 27.05, the average primary class size is 20.95 and the average kindergarten class size in 17.14. At Whistler Senior Secondary the average junior class (Grades 8-10) class is about 24 while the senior classes are about 26.

School trustee Don Brett, who recognizes and supports the role Howe Sound’s professional teachers have played in helping local kids achieve excellence, is concerned that the action of the BCTF will, in the long-run, cost more than achieved.

"Class sizes in our school district are in fact lower than they were 10 years ago," said Brett. "Even if class sizes had grown, we are talking about in the best of all worlds for the BCTF, reducing class sizes by about a couple of students per class.

"Research shows that small changes in class sizes don’t have an effect on learning outcomes, but a three-month strike certainly will. So the cost to student’s learning to win this change is much greater than any benefit the students will receive from it."

Teachers across the district earn an average of $61,640. The school board pays $13,666 in benefits per teacher.

But the figures don’t tell the whole story. WSS teacher and union bargainer John Hall said last year parents were phoned to ask if they would volunteer their students to do a course on-line because the science 9 class totaled 41 students.

"We believe in flexibility and we believe we can make on-line courses work," he said. "And yet it is still not the same thing as being in classroom, and it is not the same education that we all signed up for, either as students or parents or teachers."

Other labour leaders took part in province-wide rallies in support of teachers this week and some leaders were quoted as saying an all-out general strike is not out of the question.

The BCTF voted to walk out after the province brought in legislation imposing a contract extension on teachers. Education was declared an essential service in 2001 stripping the right of teachers to legally strike.

The strike, which has kept 42,000 teachers out of the classroom, has also caused havoc for about 600,000 parents.

"If it goes on I can imagine there will be some families who are going to have some trouble," said Spring Creek Elementary PAC chair Jenny Root.

"If they are struggling they should contact their PAC representative. I’m not sure if there is anything we can do but at least we can try to help as safety is our number one priority."

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