By Kristian Rasmussen
Local teachers will no longer help out with extracurricular activities for students, following a province-wide vote for action against Bill 22.
Columbia Valley teachers joined their colleagues across British Columbia on April 19th to vote 73 per cent in favour of action against the Liberal government’s controversial Education Improvement Act, which was passed last month. The decision removes all teacher participation in school sports, clubs, activities, and graduation ceremonies outside working hours, and is already in effect. It also opens up the possibility of full strike action in the future.
“One of the first things that I have done is cancel the high school students’ art show,” said Robyn Oliver, an art teacher at David Thompson Secondary School. “I have also cancelled the art club. I feel like there is nothing else left. I don’t have anything else that I can personally do to make a point to fight back. It is really hard for me.”
The decision was not one that teachers took lightly, said Bruce Childs, grade 5 teacher at Laird Elementary School in Invermere.
“I think we still feel that we are speaking and moving together, but it is very confusing,” he said. “There are a lot of teachers who are sticking together, but they are sad that they can’t do their extracurriculars and all the things that they always do for kids.”
Of the 41,000 or so B.C. Teachers’ Federation (BCTF) members, 21,625 voted in favour of withdrawing from extracurricular activities, with 7,486 voting against.
The teachers’ plan also includes running a public awareness campaign to educate people about Bill 22 and its impact, working to bring in a new government to repeal the legislation, and considering a future vote on a full withdrawal of services.
Lizzie Midyette, Special Education teacher at David Thompson Secondary, is taking part in the job action over her concerns about Bill 22 and the lack of support she says it offers educators.
“There is less support for special needs and less support for teachers who are doing their best to meet those needs,” she explained.
The vote to take action came after the B.C. legislature passed Bill 22 on March 15th.
The new legislation suspends teachers’ strike action, establishes a six-month “cooling off” period, and appoints a mediator to aid negotiations. But local teachers feel that the new bill is not widely understood.
“I would like to see some awareness raised around the issues in Bill 22,” said Werner Kopp, a teacher at David Thompson Secondary School. “There are no longer class size limits on any classes; no requirements for minimal levels of special education.
“I would like to see a truly independent mediator appointed to work with the teachers. The BCTF have asked for that repeatedly.”
Mr. Kopp wants parents and the public to be clear about the job action.
“I think it is something really important to note that we are not stopping extracurricular activities from occurring,” he said. “There’s a misunderstanding there. We are just no longer volunteering. Anyone else can stand up and do them. We are not trying to block extra-curricular activities. This is really not something that most people do lightly.”
Educators are considered an essential service in British Columbia. The union will receive fines of $475 per day for individual teachers, $2,500 for union officers, and a minimum of $1.3 million for the British Columbia Teachers Federation for any illegal strikes.
“We are going to get hammered if we do something that we believe is sticking up for us and the kids,” said Doug Murray, Windermere Teachers Association President. “What can we control? About the only thing we can control is what we do on our free time.”
The decision to pull all volunteering before graduation and year end sporting events was a tough call but needed to be done, according to Murray.
“It hurts everyone, but if we just did nothing that would speak volumes too,” he explained. “We are not going to let Christy Clarke and George Abbott do this to education without anybody noticing.”
Barb Gagatek, who teaches at Eileen Madson Primary School said she has received a high degree of support from local parents throughout the job action.
“My students are very happy with the way the year has gone,” she said. “There hasn’t been any change in their child’s education, it’s top-notch as usual.”