Canadian schoolchildren head back to school today — but not if they attend a public school in British Columbia, where the months-long teachers' strike has delayed the start of classes.
B.C.’s 40,000 public school teachers went on strike two weeks before the end of the last school year, leaving half a million students with no classes before summer vacation. Over the summer, the teachers' union and the B.C. government failed to resolve the contract dispute that led to the strike—and a last-ditch attempt at moving forward last week also fell through.
Daycare operators and other childcare providers have been scrambling to meet increased demand and many parents because of the strike, are now relying on what's being referred to as "strike camps" for kids.
Community centres in several B.C. cities are running day camp programs similar to the holiday and professional development day programs offered every year.
While Vancouver Park Board chair Aaron Jasper advertised Monday that day camp spots were still available at several Vancouver community centres, Heather Turner, director of recreation and culture with the District of North Vancouver, said her program's 150 spots are full.
Turner said the single biggest issue with running the day camps is staffing.
"A lot of our summer staff are now going back to post-secondary [schools], so that's been really difficult," she said. "We'll keep offering as much as we can for as long as we can, because we know this is really stressful for parents and families. We hope to be able to keep the same leaders on and to keep opening more spots.
Turner says turning away parents has been hard, and she hopes camp leaders will be available to come back to work on a moment's notice if she's able to find more camp space.
"Any time we have space in a building, we're trying to find somebody that can supervise kids and make sure that they have a great experience," she said.
The B.C. government has promised that during the strike, it would set aside $40 a day per public school child aged 12 and under. Parents and caregivers can put that money toward day camp programs or any other purpose they see fit.
Online registration to receive the "temporary education support for parents" payments went live Sunday, but the government has said the funds won't be disbursed until after the strike is over.
Rallies planned across B.C.
In Victoria, striking teachers are encouraging parents and students to attend a public 'teach-in' outside the B.C. legislature beginning at 9 a.m. PT, and the B.C. Teachers' Federation (BCTF) is encouraging anyone and everyone to rally at local MLA offices.
Over the weekend, after mediator Vince Ready said the latest attempt at negotiating a new contract for teachers had failed, BCTF president Jim Iker urged parents and others to contact their elected representatives "and let them know it's time for government to compromise."
While the two sides have come closer to agreeing on some of the contract terms, the question of how class size and composition are determined remains a key sticking point.
Neither the teachers' union nor the employers' association has set a date for a return to the bargaining table.
The B.C. government has said repeatedly it will not legislate teachers back to work.