Melanie Antweiler heard the news when her alarm-clock radio went off Tuesday morning. It was sometime after negotiators for the B.C. Teachers’ Federation and the B.C. Public School Employers’ Association reached a tentative deal in the early hours of September 16.
Antweiler is president of the Vancouver District Parent Advisory Council. She’s a mother of two boys—one entering Grade 3, the other in kindergarten. Like other parents across the province, she’s pleased that schools may open soon.
“My older one isn’t quite ready for summer to be over, but it looks like it might actually be,” Antweiler told the Georgia Straight in a phone interview.
Although children may be back in the classroom as early as Monday (September 22), Antweiler has worries. She didn’t like what she heard at a meeting of the Vancouver school board on the night of September 15, while veteran mediator Vince Ready was working out a deal between the BCTF and BCPSEA at a hotel in Richmond.
“They were told [by the province] that effective September 1, none of the savings in the strike would stay in the district, and there’s no money in the budget to extend the school year,” Antweiler said. “So there’s still questions. How are three weeks going to be made up? How are kids going to get all the hours that by law they’re required to have?”
Schools were supposed to open the day after Labour Day; teachers have been on a full-scale strike since June 17.
“I know that Vancouver has a two-week break in March,” Antweiler said of potentially making up the lost days. “I don’t know if they can cancel one week and just have a one-week break. That would make up five days of school there. And the district closure days as well—I don’t think it’s fair to take away the professional-development days, because they do actually benefit our children in the long run.”
Under the School Act’s school calendar regulation, school districts must offer the following minimum hours of instruction annually: 853 for kindergarten, 878 for grades 1 to 7, and 952 for grades 8 to 12.
Baljinder Narang, chair of the Burnaby board of education, is eager to find out how pending issues will be resolved.
“There are more questions at the moment than we have answers,” Narang told the Straight in a phone interview on September 16.
According to her, school trustees want to make sure that the core curriculum is adequately covered.
As well, the strike shut down summer school, and a number of students who had to make up certain courses in order to progress to the next grade may not have been able to do so. “Some of them might have taken courses either online or in other jurisdictions,” Narang said.
She noted that because the last school year didn’t end properly, a lot of the work that teachers would normally have done didn’t happen.
“The factors that are going to influence how we move forward is how teachers are able to wrap up their last-year commitments going into [the new school year], and how much preparation they can put together with administrators for this year,” Narang said.
Narang added that because other school unions have been out in support of striking teachers, maintenance work also got held up.
In Richmond, school trustee Rod Belleza is relieved that the BCTF and BCPSEA reached a tentative agreement.
Belleza also wants to know if the deal is going to provide adequate funding for schools. Teachers and the province have been fighting over class size and the ratio of special-needs students to their fellow classmates.
How students are going to make up for about three weeks of instruction is also a concern for the Richmond school trustee. “This is something that the ministry [of education] and the school districts have to consider,” Belleza told the Straight in a phone interview.
Patti Bacchus’s phone rang around 4 a.m. on September 16, and the Vancouver school board chair was informed that the parties in the labour dispute had come to an agreement.
Bacchus acknowledged that making up for lost time in class may be “tricky”. The government is distributing some of the strike savings to families through its $40 daily subsidy for each child aged 12 or under.
“The government has advised us that they are planning to reclaim all of the September strike savings,” Bacchus told the Straight in a phone interview. “They did allow us to keep 20 percent of the June strike savings, but nothing from September. So they would have that. I don’t know what they intend to do with that money.”
Still, she was glad to hear the news. “It’s been incredibly difficult for families,” Bacchus said. “We’re hearing from students themselves, we hear from parents, we hear from teachers how much they want to be back in their classrooms.”