Pickets going up Thursday at valley schools

Naomi Nilsson and other members of the Cowichan District Teachers
Naomi Nilsson and other members of the Cowichan District Teachers' Association.
— image credit: Don Bodger/file

Pickets will be going up Thursday at valley schools and students are staying home, as the series of rotating strikes announced by the B.C. Teachers' Federation for this week hits School District 79.

At the same time, terms of the provincial government's lockout announced in a letter from the B.C. Public School Employers' Association have gone into effect, although many are still unclear on the requirements for such things as extra-curricular activities.

The bottom line is the two parties don't appear anywhere close to an agreement. And the rotating strikes could continue into next week.

"At this point, we have still not been able to reach agreement at the provincial bargaining table,'' noted Naomi Nilsson, president of the Cowichan District Teachers' Association.

"Escalating to Stage Two was not something our teachers, nor the BCTF, take lightly. However, we do not think it has been as disruptive as the employer's lockout which has resulted in teachers leaving school property at lunchtime and being unable to perform marking or planning during any time other than the 45-minute window before school or after school.''

"The government lockout will include preventing teachers from working with students during lunch breaks and before and after school, and threatening discipline for teachers that work during the lockout conditions, such as taking work home, working with students during lunch or communicating with parents outside of the school day,'' added Chris Rolls, president of the Lake Cowichan Teachers' Association.

"End-of-year activities are also impacted by the full lockout days described — June 25, 26 and 27.''

The BCPSEA letter creates more of a negative impact on students and families than the rotating strikes, Rolls indicated.

"The government themselves, by this letter, are preventing teachers from performing many of the tasks they they would be continuing under Stage 1 and Stage 2 job action. It is the government that is causing increasingly negative impact on the students of B.C. Teachers continue to hope that BCPSEA will bargain in good faith and come to the table prepared to reach a negotiated collective agreement.''

Education Minister Peter Fassbender indicated Monday the government is looking for movement from the BCTF on wage and benefit demands but doesn't plan to legislate a settlement to the strike.

"To rush to legislation is not where we're going to go,'' said Fassbender. "We want the BCTF to come to the table with a wage response that is reasonable and within the zone of other public sector unions. We expect them to come with something that is affordable for taxpayers.''

BCTF president Jim Iker said lockout provisions would disrupt graduation ceremonies, and sports, drama and clubs would be cancelled. But the BCPSEA issued a letter to the BCTF indicating Iker's statement is incorrect and there are no school district restrictions on extracurricular or volunteer activities.

There was one incident Monday where a student accidentally hit a fire alarm at Alexander Elementary with a hockey stick. Nilsson said teachers were outside at the time when the lockout requests them to refrain from working.

— with a file from Tom Fletcher

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