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Locals feel impact of teachers strike

Cowichan Secondary School students wait outside the Island Savings Centre where Grade 10 exams were being held Wednesday. - Kathy Santini
Cowichan Secondary School students wait outside the Island Savings Centre where Grade 10 exams were being held Wednesday.
— image credit: Kathy Santini

The impact of the teachers strike locally is as varied as the opinions about it.

After taking a provincial study day on Monday, teachers were in a legal position to strike as of June 17. Local schools and school district facilities are behind pickets. Negotiations resumed June 18, after breaking down over the weekend.

Cowichan high school student Tanner Davy-Rekers said he had some anxious moments before the Labour Relations Board ruled Grade 10 to 12 provincial exams would go ahead.

“I needed the exam to pump my mark up,” the Grade 10 student said, just after he’d finished his exam. “I’m disappointed at both the teachers and the government for making it difficult to pass Grade 10. I think it’s stupid what the government has been doing, they’re trying to pull back programs, they should be spending that money on education.”

To relieve the stress before the decision about provincial exams, Davy-Rekers said he worked out more at the gym.

It isn’t all bad. He’s started his construction job two weeks early and so will be earning more money.

Parent Brandy Mandrusiak works as a child care worker in the child-minding room at the Cowichan Aquatic Centre. Because her kids attend the private Sunrise Waldorf School, she hasn’t personally been impacted by the strike. But others have been scrambling for childcare options.

“There are people who are desperate, they say they’re desperately in need of help on Facebook forums,” she said.

Co-worker Haley Ketch said there aren’t as many moms dropping their kids off, because they have older children who can’t go to school and they have to stay home with them. A lot of the moms are having to forgo those 90 minutes of down time, a welcome respite from the tough job of parenting.

“I agree wholeheartedly with the strike, but it’s frustrating for a lot of people,” Ketch said.

Not Austin Lafleur, a Grade 10 student who attends Cowichan High.

“It’s more fun than being in school,” Lafleur said. “What’s going on is none of my business. It’s not that bad for us, we just get more days off from school.”

Quamichan Middle School student Eden Lush says she knows teachers are trying to help by standing up for what they believe in and for students too, but, “they’re wasting the time they could be helping by teaching.”

She doesn’t know how she’s going to fill the time, but guesses she’ll spend more time at the aquatic centre.

Jake Russell, a Grade 8 student who attends the same school, was headed out to the skate park to spend part of his day.

“I’m not mad. They have a right to their opinions, but it does interfere with learning,” he said.

The impact on him? End of year dances were cancelled, exams weren’t held and he couldn’t get help from teachers because they were locked out by their employer during lunch breaks.

Children’s librarian Nariel Davis said the strike is preventing her from visiting local schools, to promote the Vancouver Island Regional Library’s summer reading club.

“Children librarians usually spend the month of June in elementary schools, promoting that program,” said fellow librarian Monica Finn.

While there might be a decrease in the summer program because of the reduced publicity, the Cowichan branch’s story time program is being more heavily attended since the start of the strike and parents are checking out a lot more books.

The Strong Start program, which promotes early literacy for lower income children, is usually held in schools. But because of the strike, it will be offered at VIRL’s Chemainus branch. For more information about VIRL’s programs, visit virl.bc.ca

A little more removed from the situation are Archie Byatt and Josh Lafrance, who work in maintenance for the CVRD.

Byatt’s Dad was a teacher for 35 years and his daughter is now too.

“I’ll admit I’m biased, it’s a big job, the government should do whatever it can to get them back to work,” Byatt said.

Back in the day when he attended school, he remembers that teachers had aides to help students who needed extra help, “but they don’t have them now.”

LaFrance, a self admitted strong unionist, says teachers jobs are important because, “they look after our kids for six to seven hours a day.”

“I support the teachers fully, they don’t spend the money on teachers; municipalities, the province and the feds give the money to themselves,” he said. “Administrative positions are always top heavy.”

On Thursday, the BC Teachers' Federation called for mediation. The government declined.

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