Kids keeping busy during teachers' strike

Despite some parents bringing their children to school, the first of three days of a teachers' walkout went without incident in Burnaby, says Burnaby school district Supt. Claudio Morelli.

"I don't have any specific numbers but we did have some parents bring their children to school," said Morelli, "but after consultation with the principals at the schools, they took their children home."

Some students did drop in to their schools to pick up books and homework or visit their lockers for items they forgot last week.

Also showing up at school were a couple of special-needs students whose parents were unable to make other arrangements, he said. "They're students that would normally have a teaching assistant with them, and so they have stayed at the schools ... The EA (education assistant) is there to do their regular job as they're assigned to do."

Otherwise, it's been relatively quiet at Burnaby schools, with non-teaching staff doing their regular jobs including paperwork.

"I haven't heard anything come back that's been of any kind of concern," he said Monday afternoon.

The teachers' job action is legal, and is following rules set out by the Labour Relations Board. There are no official picket lines, which is allowing parents to continue bringing their children to childcare facilities located at school sites. Teachers are expected to return to classrooms on Thursday.

In the meantime, there programs and services being offered to keep schoolkids busy during the time off.

At Dolphin Cinemas, at 4555 Hastings St. in North Burnaby, owner Rahim Manji added four additional matinee shows—Dr. Seuss's The Lorax and The Descendants starring George Clooney—each day of the strike in response to numerous calls he started getting last Wednesday night.

"We had a lot of calls from parents, like frantic calls," Manji said. "Not only parents but school programs, like after-school programs, daycares. They're bombarded with people and they're like, 'please open because we have nothing to do.'"

Manji, who also owns the Hollywood 3 Cinemas in Surrey and Pitt Meadows, said he held a meeting with all the company's staff where they decided to help out by opening the three theatres.

By early Monday afternoon, the Surrey and Pitt Meadows locations had seen about 100 customers each, and Burnaby was expected to do about the same.

Manji said the crowds were coming in as groups, mostly daycares and families where one parent has managed to take the day off to stay with their children and the other has gone to work.

"It's tough. I can't believe that it's gotten to this point ... The teachers are fighting for something good and I commend them for doing what they're doing, but I guess they had to make a point."

For Manji, he's hoping to break even on the additional shows which he's doing simply as a community service. His independent theatres charge lower prices than the large chains and operate with very small profit margins, depending largely on volume sales to get by.

"It's not like 500 and a thousand people are coming ... It's at least something for people to do."

Over at Burnaby's parks and recreation department, it was seeing takeup of its offerings during the teachers' job action.

Parks and recreation director Dave Ellenwood said in an email that as of Monday afternoon its "Bonsor Spring Adventure Camp," a 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. daycamp created specifically for the community during the teachers' strike, had 10 children registered out of 24 spots available for Tuesday, and 13 out of 24 spots registered for Wednesday.

A public skate at Kensington Arena attracted 35 school-age children when it usually doesn't have any because they're normally in school, he said, "so it is nice to see the kids on the ice."

And at Bonsor Recreation Complex staff experienced "a little higher volume of calls than normal" asking about Monday's public swim schedule. A few more admissions had been sold by early afternoon and staff were expecting to see more than the usual amount of swimmers that day.

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