By Alex BUTLER and Jeff NAGEL
A letter from the Mission school district on Sept. 2 reminds parents that schools continue to be closed for instruction and that classes will not resume “for at least this week or perhaps even longer.”
But as the teachers’ strike continues for an undetermined period, concerns are growing about the impact an increasingly delayed start will have on students – particularly for those in Grade 12 who are potentially moving on to higher education next year.
Peter Fassbender, minister of education, told The Record that ministry staff are working hard on plans to mitigate any impact on students who are missing class time.
“I don’t have specifics. There are all kinds of options – looking at extending the year, shortening Christmas, spring break … extending the days.
“But right now there is no firm plan because our hope is that teachers would be willing to suspend their strike action while we try to get a negotiated and/or mediated settlement.”
B.C. Teachers’ Federation president Jim Iker ruled out a pause in the strike along the lines of the two-week truce the province proposed last week and is still offering.
“The government remains entrenched and unwilling to be flexible,” he told reporters. “We’re not suspending any strike right now.”
Fassbender has vowed the government won’t legislate the teachers back to work this time.
For upcoming graduates, Fassbender told The Record that he has been talking with advanced education minister Amrik Virk, who he said has been “talking to universities as far as entry requirements and those kinds of things and I’m sure we’ll find a way to deal with that.”
The strike began with rotating walkouts in the spring and turned into a complete school shutdown in mid-June. There were virtually no negotiations through the summer until a last-minute effort at exploratory talks led by mediator Vince Ready began last week.
Ready walked away last Saturday, declaring an impasse with the two sides too far apart for mediation to be productive.
The provincial government negotiator Peter Cameron said the government is not interested in binding arbitration to settle the strike, as it would be empowering one person to force through a final decision that might be extremely costly. Nor, he said, is it the optimum way to reach a result best for students in classrooms or that the two sides can live with.
“The parties end up not really having made the hard decisions and owning the outcome,” Cameron said of arbitration.
BCTF vice-president Glen Hansman said the union “might be open” to arbitration but doesn’t expect any interest from the province.
Asked what he would do to end future labour strife between teachers and government, Fassbender told The Record that involves having a longer-term agreement “so that we’re not always on the labour treadmill, which we’ve been on for decades,” and setting up ways to work on contract issues on an ongoing basis and not simply at the next round of negotiations.
If those efforts were made, “I think we would find ourselves working more in partnership on the future of education for every student in our system, rather than into this kind of standoff on the labour side.”