Frustration growing as teachers walk picket lines again
With the scheduled beginning of classes only days away, teachers are again walking the picket lines at all of Burnaby's schools.
And frustration is rising amongst the teachers and parents as the labour dispute between the province's teachers and government drags on into a fourth month.
Shyamala James, a teacher at Windsor elementary, said she's feeling anxious at two levels. She wants to be in her classroom this week, preparing to welcome back her students, sorting teaching materials, making lesson plans. She's also stressing about what to do with her own two children who are supposed to be entering kindergarten next week.
"It's been stressful all summer," said James, one of three teachers standing in the shade of a tree in front of Windsor elementary.
The uncertainty over the new school year has also been difficult financially, said James. With no paycheque since the dispute began last spring, and no prospects for another any time soon, she said she took on summer work as a pharmacy technician to help pay the bills.
One of her colleagues, Dorelle Jackson, also took on a summer job, teaching at Simon Fraser University.
"We've still got to pay rent," she said.
The teachers said they're also having a hard time explaining the situation to their students when they bump into them in the community, or the kids drop by the picket line.
"They don't understand," said Jackson. "They're ready to go back to school too."
Parents are also frustrated.
The Burnaby District Parent Advisory Council sent a letter to both the BC Teachers Federation and the BC Public School Employers' Association urging them to begin negotiations on a new contract so the start of the school year won't be delayed.
"We know our teachers, district staff and trustees care deeply about students and education," said Jen Mezei, the chair of Burnaby DPAC. "Parents are finding it increasingly difficult to see how a prolonged labour dispute is in the best interest of our students' immediate educational needs."
The Burnaby council also endorsed the recommendation of the 28 school district advisory council chairs that attended a summit in Richmond earlier in August to advocate for more funding to address classroom needs.
"Our students need resource and support levels to enhance the learning of all students," said Mezei. "We are lucky in Burnaby to have a fiscally well-managed district, but our classrooms are still feeling the pinch."
In an open letter to parents issued Monday, school district superintendent Kevin Kaardal said a decision to open schools in time on Sept. 2 might not happen until next Monday if a settlement is reached at the last minute.
"There will be disruptions," said Kaadal. "We will be working collectively to restore our schools back to normal operations as quickly as possible."
But if a settlement isn't reached in time, Kaardal reminded parents the schools will be closed.
"Although principals and vice-principals would be in their schools, they would be unable to provide students with instruction or supervision," said Kaardal, who also noted the district would be posting information on its website about day camps being offered should the dispute continue.
Negotiators for the teachers' union and the province haven't met face to face since Aug. 8.
The province has promised it will compensate parents $40 a day for every school-aged child under the age of 13 if the strike continues past Sept. 2.