B.C. students stage protests over teachers' dispute
Afternoon walkout urged before teachers hold 3-day strike
Thousands of high school students across B.C. walked out of classes on Friday afternoon to make their voices heard in the prolonged teachers' dispute with the province.
Outside the downtown Vancouver Art Gallery, students took turns speaking into a megaphone and chanting.
Grade 8 student Sophie Perdriel held a sign above her head that read "Batman would help the teachers, why won't you? Teachers are our superheroes."
The 14-year-old, whose parents gave her permission to attend the rally, said she was there to support her math and English teachers.
"Teachers, they've been helping us through the years, they aren't getting the cut they need," she said.
"They work incredibly hard. Students are always complaining, 'Oh, we work a lot,' but when we look at our teachers, they work for hours.
"The government is just being unfair."
After six months of job action and fruitless contract negotiations, B.C.'s 41,000 teachers announced plans for a three-day strike, starting on Monday.
Windermere Secondary School student organizer Navi Rai says students are tired of being caught in the middle of the contract dispute, and more than 17,000 signed up on a Facebook page to walk out in protest at 2 p.m. PT.
"I am blown out of my mind. I can't believe so many people came out to support us," Rai said at the downtown Vancouver rally.
The B.C. government has introduced legislation to force the teachers back to work, but it could be a week or more before it is passed.
Under a recent Labour Relations Board ruling teachers will be legally able to strike three days the first week, then one day per week until the back-to-work legislation is passed.
The events of this week pushed up the volume on the strike, but on Friday, Education Minister George Abbott said the rhetoric had gone too far, at least in one case.
Abbott said he was delivered a package of letters from Grade 1 students in the Victoria-area suburb of Esquimalt demanding he stop bullying teachers.
The B.C. Teachers Federation has characterized the government's back-to-work legislation as "bullying."
"I'm sure all teachers, as well as all parents, share the view that this is appalling politicization of children, not only in the classroom, but in one of the earliest years of their lives in the classroom," Abbott said.
The Greater Victoria School District has said it has launched an investigation of the incident, but said the teacher involved has acknowledged an error in judgment.
With files from the CBC's Ayesha Bhatty and The Canadian Press