British Columbia

B.C. teachers' strike: students brace for another week without classes

Parents and students are scrambling for learning and daycare options again this week as half a million B.C. students face the second week of the new school year without classes.

Government rejected union offer of binding arbitration on the weekend

Annemarie Tempelman Kluit reads to her daughter. Kluit, who runs the online blog, yoyomama, says it's hard for parents to keep kids intellectually engaged without school. (CBC)

Parents and students are scrambling for learning and daycare options again this week as half a million B.C. students face the second week of the new school year without classes.

On Saturday, the B.C. government rejected the teachers' offer of binding arbitration to settle the dispute.

Education Minister Peter Fassbender said government negotiator Peter Cameron advised against such a move.

Fassbender then issued a statement saying he agreed, calling the teachers' union proposal "another empty effort" to give parents and teachers "false hope." 

"Despite several efforts by Mr. Cameron, and more than a day later, the B.C. Public School Employers' Association still doesn’t have a written proposal from the BCTF," he said in an emailed statement Saturday.

BCTF President Jim Iker, Education Minister Peter Fassbender and BCPSEA chief negotiator Peter Cameron are the three major players in the B.C. teachers' dispute. (CBC)

Cameron said teachers' conditions regarding class size and support staff levels remain a major stumbling block.

He said he believed the offer was not serious because it did not guarantee the end of the strike.

"They would vote on taking down the strike," said Cameron. "That's not a real proposal."

But the union fired back with a statement of its own.

Jim Iker, head of the B.C. Teachers' Federation, said arbitration would be a fair way to end the strike and get children back in class.

"Unfortunately, the government continues to put its own interests ahead of all others," said Iker in a written statement. "B.C. teachers are willing to put our proposals to an independent third party for evaluation, but the government remains too entrenched to even consider this fair process."

Vince Ready monitoring situation

Fassbender accused Iker of setting a number of preconditions on bargaining but Iker said the only precondition to bargaining was that government remove a proposal the union says would undo the government's court losses.

The B.C. Supreme Court ruled in January government breached teachers' rights by stripping them of the ability to bargain for class size and the amount of support staff in classrooms in 2002.
The government says mediator Vince Ready continues to monitor the situation but sees no point in becoming involved because the two sides are still too far apart. (CBC)
The union accused government of trying to undo that ruling during bargaining.

On Friday, teachers said if the province agreed to binding arbitration, they would vote on ending the strike that has delayed the start of school.

Cameron said a veteran mediator will be monitoring the situation to see if and when more bargaining can take place.

"I think that's our best line of hope," he said

"Vince Ready continues to monitor the situation," said Cameron. "At this point Vince does not see any purpose in full-scale mediation happening."

Ready has a reputation for solving even the toughest disputes, but had previously walked out of bargaining sessions between government negotiators and teachers, saying both sides were too far apart. 

British Columbia's 40,000 teachers went on strike two weeks before the start of summer vacation, putting half a million students out of class and delaying the start of class indefinitely.

Parents examine online options

Faced with the daunting prospect of yet another week of no school, some parents have begun to turn to online options and educational bookstores.

Annemarie Tempelman Kluit is a parent and also runs the blog site, yoyomama, an online resource for busy parents.

On Saturday parents showed up to support a student rally in Coquitlam protesting the lack of classes. Rallies were also held in Victoria and on Sunday in Surrey. (CBC)

Since the teachers' dispute began, she's been using the blog to help parents like herself find daycare options, but daycamps are just a temporary fix. Like many parents, Kluit says she also wants to keep her kids intellectually engaged.

Educational books are an option many parents are resorting to. EBS Educational Bookstore Surrey says business is double what it was this time last year.

Owner Helen Choi says parents are becoming increasingly concerned about what their children are missing.

Beyond DL Learning is an online school that offers ministry-approved K-12 classes.

It's seen a spike in enrolment in its classes since the beginning of the school year.
A child in a stroller looks out during a rally in support of teachers Friday evening at Canada Place. (CBC)
Courses are funded by the ministry, offered free of charge and taught entirely online. Students can come in once a week for face-to-face tutoring.

"We understand the troubles students and parents are going through at this time....all the courses are tuition-free and we will support the students as much as they need to get them through this process," said Beyond DL Learning's Avneet Gill-Dhaliwal." 

Weekend rallies

Students, frustrated with the stalemate that is keeping their schools closed, staged rallies over the weekend.

"After the first week of school, not starting gets really worrying because you need to start studying even though the end is like months from now," said student organizer Zohreh Rezaiemanesh at a student rally in Coquitlam on Saturday.

Some of the students also said they're experiencing first-hand the under funding in the educational system. 

"There's not enough textbooks so people have to share textbooks, and we can't take them home because they're shared with other classes as well," said student organizer Taly Baybik.

With files from the Canadian Press, Farah Merali and Tim Weekes


To encourage thoughtful and respectful conversations, first and last names will appear with each submission to CBC/Radio-Canada's online communities (except in children and youth-oriented communities). Pseudonyms will no longer be permitted.

By submitting a comment, you accept that CBC has the right to reproduce and publish that comment in whole or in part, in any manner CBC chooses. Please note that CBC does not endorse the opinions expressed in comments. Comments on this story are moderated according to our Submission Guidelines. Comments are welcome while open. We reserve the right to close comments at any time.