The only good news for public schools Thursday was that the B.C. Teachers’ Federation (BCTF) and government are still at the table and have promised to bargain throughout the weekend in an attempt to reach a deal.
Both insist a settlement is possible – if only the other side would make a reasonable offer. If that doesn’t happen, schools will be closed Monday for a BCTF study session followed by a full-blown strike starting Tuesday.
That means today could be the last day of school for students in 18 districts that are earmarked for rotating strikes Friday. Grade 10-12 provincial exams are expected to go ahead, since the Labour Relations Board (LRB) has decided they are “essential services”. Teachers have been ordered to supervise students writing the tests and submit final marks for Grade 12 students by June 20.
School districts will decide who does the marking, Education Minister Peter Fassbender said.
(Students in B.C. write only five provincial exams: two in Grade 10, two in Grade 11 and one in Grade 12. The marking of the Grade 10-11 exams might be delayed.)
Also designated as essential services in the order by LRB vice-chair Ken Saunders are:
– All psychometric and other testing that’s already scheduled to determine if a student should be classified as special needs.
– Information to confirm or discontinue designation for students in Category H (intensive behaviour/serious mental illness).
Questions remain about what will happen to summer school. Fassbender has said government will lift its teacher lockout at the end of June to allow summer school to proceed as usual, but that might not happen if a full strike is underway.
Summer school became hugely popular in B.C. after it was declared free of charge in 2007. It’s no longer just for students who are struggling. Many kids sign up to improve their grades, lighten the next year’s load or make room for more electives.
There are also questions about the impact of a strike on schools with so-called balanced calendars, which means holidays are distributed throughout the year and classes continue in July. (A Vancouver Sun story says students in those schools are also being told to clean out their desks.)
Fassbender apologized to students and parents during media interviews, saying: “I’m profoundly sorry that you’re in the middle of all of this. No one wants this. But we have to break the cycle; we need to get to a negotiated settlement. That’s our commitment.”