Teachers to vote on withdrawing from extracurriculars

Grade 12 graduation ceremonies and the district-wide school track meet may be threatened

Grade 12 graduation ceremonies and the district-wide school track meet may be threatened if teachers vote Thursday to abstain from extracurricular activities.

B.C. teachers are voting on a nine-point action plan in protest of Bill 22 – provincial government legislation that extends the current teachers’ contract and does not allow bargaining over class size and composition.

If the vote passes, teachers will refrain from all voluntary activities, ranging from sporting events to after-school clubs. A wildcat strike is not included in the action plan, although a walk out down the road has not been ruled out.

“The government has forced us into somewhere we don’t want to be,” said Neil Thompson, president of the local teachers’ association. “It’s affecting kids, disappointing kids and disappointing teachers. It’s not something we take lightly. It’s not something we want to do but the government has left us without any other choice. Our goal is to highlight to the public and the government all the extra things teachers do.”

Thompson said he is confident teachers will vote in favour of the Bill 22 Action Plan.

“I think it’ll be a ‘yes’ vote but we want it to be a strong ‘yes’ vote,” he said. “What we’re trying to do here is send a message to the government and the public that teachers have been disrespected.”

Thompson said if the vote does pass, events such as the track meet and the grad ceremony don’t have to be cancelled.

Administrators, such as school principals and vice-principals, as well as the superintendent, can all still participate under the teachers’ job action – as can parents. Thompson said teachers can still attend, but not organize and co-ordinate the events.

Teachers are currently working on a ‘bell to bell’ basis, or ‘teach only.’

Last month, teachers walked off the job for three consecutive school days, putting up informational “stick-it” lines in front of schools to raise awareness of Bill 22.

The legislation imposes a cooling off period until August 31 and now makes it illegal for teachers to go on strike.

Any illegal job activity carries hefty fines – $475 per day for individual teachers, $2,500 each day for officials and $1.3 million a day for the BC Teachers Federation.

The bill also includes changes to special-needs education funding, classroom sizes and teacher bargaining rights. The bill caps kindergarten classes at 22 students while Grade 1-3 classes cannot exceed 24. Most Grade 4-12 classes can have up to 30 students but teachers in classrooms that exceed the cap are eligible for additional compensation.

“What the government’s done, through Bill 22 is disrespect teachers so much,” Thompson said. “I just don’t understand why you would want teachers in classrooms so demoralized.”

Teachers have been in a grid lock with the provincial government since March 2011 when both sides came to the bargaining table.

Teachers are asking for a 15 per cent cost of living increase over three years, as well as improved classroom sizes and composition.

The government, on the other hand, is standing firm on its net zero mandate, meaning no wage increase unless a savings can be found within the teachers’ contracts.

The government enacted Bill 22 in mid-March to put an end to the teachers’ job action and appointed mediator Charles Jago.

Susan Lambert, president of the BC Teachers Union, has accused Jago of being partial to the government because he had a hand in Bill 22.

Education Minister George Abbot said Jago’s only role in the legislation was to comment on the terms of reference for a government appointed mediator.

Even so, the teachers union asked the Labour Relations Board to rule on a request to have Jago removed from the role.

Last week, the board reported that it’s the government’s position that only the courts can overturn Jago’s appointment.

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