B.C. teachers' strike: students brace for another week without classes
Government rejected union offer of binding arbitration on the weekend
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.
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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.
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."
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.
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.
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.
"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."
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