British Columbia

Job action hurting students, says B.C. school district

More high school students are failing class since teachers began job action six months ago, according to pass or fail marks provided to the Kamloops-Thompson School District.

Teachers' group argues failures rates have gone down since job action started

The superintendent of the Kamloops-Thompson School District says teacher job action is hurting students' grades. Terry Sullivan says support programs for struggling students aren't being conducted. (CBC)

The head of the Kamloops-Thompson School District says more high school students failed the fall semester compared to last year, and is blaming teacher job action.

"There is an increase in the failure rate, across the board, in pretty well all courses this year over last year," said Terry Sullivan, superintendent of School District 73.

Sullivan said in any given course across the district, one or two more students failed the fall semester.

"You know, in some other clusters it's more dramatic. In one particular area we have seen a 35-per-cent-failure-rate among aboriginal students. There isn't any question in my mind that is related to the job action," said Sullivan.

The teachers' job action involves refusal to do any administrative duties, including playground supervision or filling out report cards. Extra-curricular activities have also been cut back in some schools.

Sullivan says in his school district, special programs designed to intervene when a student is having trouble aren't being carried out.

"Our data shows that what we've been doing with respect to aboriginal students and completion rates and failure rates has been very effective. But the very nature and the structure of the job action has prevented us from doing the things we would normally do to mitigate those failure rates," said Sullivan.

"Students are being hurt as a result of this."

Preliminary results based on pass or fail grades

The exact numbers, he says, vary from school to school and are based on pass or fail statistics provided to the school district by teachers. Sullivan says while many teachers are keeping detailed progress notes for students, they are not sharing that information with administration.

Instead, administration is given a simple pass or fail grade for all students, allowing the district to make scheduling decisions for the second semester.

"The results are very preliminary, and I want to stress that. Part of the consequence of the job action is marks are not being shared with administration. So the data that we have is certainly not comprehensive."

Sullivan said he's not surprised by the increased failure rate, saying it was something both sides warned of before the job action began.

"I think our fear was, since September, that most students were going to do okay," he said. "But the students who were most vulnerable would be those students who struggle."

Failure rates going down, says teachers' association

However, the head of the Kamloops-Thompson Teachers' Association argues there's been a decrease in student failure rates since job action started.

Jason Karpuk says councillors from the district have reported to him that failure rates have actually gone down.

"We are seeing actually a lowering in the failure rates and I think that is a result of teachers being able to do what they are trained to do, which is teach," he said.

"They are having more time to do that under the current job action, so I think that that's the reality."

Earlier this month, the B.C. government appointed an industrial relations expert to examine the contract negotiations between the B.C. Teachers' Federation and the B.C. Public School Employers' Association. 

But the BCTF is calling for an independent mediator to try to break the deadlock at the bargaining table.

Federation President Susan Lambert says an independent mediator might be able to find some common ground, but Education Minister George Abbott has already rejected the idea of mediation, saying the two sides are too far apart.

With files from the CBC's Jackie Sharkey, the Canadian Press