No school June 6 as next set of rotating strikes hit Sea to Sky school district 

Student trips cancelled but graduation plans will go ahead

click to enlarge PHOTO BY JOHN FRENCH - Strike a pose A small group of picketers at Spring Creek Elementary braved the rain and spent Monday, May 19 protesting a lack of progress as officials hammer out a collective agreement for members of the BCTF.
  • Photo BY John french
  • Strike a pose A small group of picketers at Spring Creek Elementary braved the rain and spent Monday, May 19 protesting a lack of progress as officials hammer out a collective agreement for members of the BCTF.

The British Columbia Teachers Federation announced late yesterday, May 28, that a second round of rotating strikes will take place across the province next week.

Schools in the Sea to Sky district will be closed June 6. In Whistler this was an already scheduled collaboration day, so kids were not expected at school anyway.

However, said Myrtle Philip Elementary school principal Jeff Maynard in an email to parents May 29, " a school it is very unfortunate for us to lose out on this day. We greatly benefit from having a focused day to co-plan and co-assess student work/projects — it builds our learning culture here at the school." Said school district superintendent Lisa McCullough, "It remains our collective hope that the labour dispute is resolved quickly at the bargaining table and that our school district can soon return to normal operations."

Administrators will be at school on June 6 but parents are asked to keep their kids at home that day. School will resume Monday June 9.

The on-going dispute means that end-of-school field trips have been cancelled in the Sea to Sky district due to the ongoing teachers' labour dispute, according to McCullough.

She said that the teachers advised her they won't be covered by the Workers' Compensation Board (WCB) if something happens on the trips so all the trips are cancelled.

McCullough believes teachers on field trips do have WCB coverage.

"Teachers are covered for any duties related to their employment, so where field trips are concerned myself or my assistant superintendent or the principal have signed off on every field trip which means it is a condition of employment," said McCullough. "As well, for the multi-day trips there's no partial lockout so teachers are being paid in full and they're covered in full for those multi-day trips."

The trip planned for Grade 6 and 7 students, teachers and parents at Spring Creek Elementary School to visit the Sea to Sky Outdoor School on Gambier Island this spring is no longer expected to take place. A grant of $10,000 from the Community Foundation of Whistler was given to help fund the trip.

"Where a teacher has cancelled a trip, it is their personal choice to do so," said McCullough.

The BC Teachers' Federation (BCTF) is advising its members that a recent WCB ruling involving a teacher hurt during a lunch hour teacher-versus-student soccer game suggests that if there's an incident and a teacher is hurt on a field trip, a WCB claim might be denied.

The teachers' union backed contract demands for smaller classes, a cap on the number of special needs kids in each class and higher wages by launching strike action in the form of rotating strikes across the province this week. Sea to Sky teachers withdrew their services in full strike action on Monday. The BCTF is pressuring the provincial government to negotiate a new collective agreement to replace the current deal, which expired last June.

While field trips are being cancelled, Whistler Secondary Grade 12 student Alexandra Mann is happy the labour dispute isn't going to disrupt her school's graduation ceremony set for June 21 at 1 p.m. Mann is the student chair of the graduation committee.

More than $30,000 has been raised to support graduation functions in Whistler and vice principal Stuart Bent confirmed that the school-organized graduation ceremony is going ahead as planned.

According to Sea to Sky Teachers' Association president Carl Walker, the provincial government and the BC Public School Employers' Association (BCPSEA) aren't willing to bargain.

"Unfortunately, the employer has steadfastly refused to table any improvements to class size, class composition and staffing levels for specialist teachers," said Walker through a news release. "Teachers have twice won the right to negotiate our working conditions, which are also students' learning conditions, in BC Supreme Court. We expect government to bring new funding to the table to make those improvements happen."

While the teachers are fighting for smaller classes and control over the composition of their classes, the provincial government is trying to maintain control of the cost of the education system.

The provincial government was demanding a 10-year contract with the BCTF. That demand was eased last week when the BC Public School Employers' Association announced it would accept a six-year deal.

"We wanted to get a settlement so we could sit down and look at restructuring bargaining to get to a 10-year deal," said education minister Peter Fassbender. "That was not acceptable. We put a signing bonus on the table for teachers — again to show that we understand the financial issues they were talking about — but, at the end of the day we're now faced with the decision of the BCTF to have full-day walkouts."

He said the provincial government is looking for long-term stability for students, parents and teachers.

According to the education ministry, funding for the education system has increased by $1 billion dating back to September of 2000-01, despite a drop of 70,000 students enrolled in the province since that time.

Bargaining sessions were held early this week but at press time there was no indication anything significant came out of those discussions.

According to Fassbender, the sides are too far apart to consider bringing a mediator into the dispute.

"It's obviously a good sign that both parties are at the table," said Walker. "It is possible that there will be second week of rotating strikes."

Check Pique's website for updates on the labour dispute.

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