Dunsmuir Grade 9 students Josh Soberg and Kyle Aylett were among a few hundred students who walked out of classes in support of their teachers on Tuesday.

Students rally in support of teachers

Government tables legislation to end strike; teachers given right to strike for three days

As the province and the B.C. Teachers’ Federation continue to square off over their ongoing contract dispute, West Shore students staged a rally today in support of their teachers.

Hundreds of teenagers walked out of classes Tuesday afternoon at Dunsmuir middle school and held a noisy but well-behaved demonstration on the back field and near Metchosin Road.

Students waved signs supporting the teachers’ demands for better class sizes and a negotiated contract settlement. “We want teachers to know we support them,” said student Taylor Weldon, 14. “They should get what they want because they do the most for us.”

Teachers have been on a work-to-rule job action since September. Today the B.C. Labour Relations Board gave teachers the green light to strike for up to three days next week. Teachers are to complete their own vote on that option Wednesday.

At the same time, Education Minister George Abbott introduced legislation that imposes a six-month “cooling-off period,” ends the existing strike, and sets up appointment of a mediator to look at non-monetary issues such as class size and composition.

Student Rowan Geddes, 14, said she’ll support her teachers if they walk out of the classroom.

“If it means they’ll get what they need, then yes. They are so involved in the school and even with our outside lives,” Geddes said. “We know teachers work hard and are so dedicated. There are truly amazing teachers here.”

“I feel the (government) isn’t listening to teachers. It’s affected all of us,” said student Mira Wade. “It’s injustice that a deal hasn’t been reached.”

At Dunsmuir school, Sooke School District assistant superintendent Dave Betts said he’d prefer kids stay in class, but they wouldn’t face repercussions for staging the 2 p.m. walkout.

“We don’t encourage students to walk out, but we recognize they want to exercise their democratic right to have their say,” Betts said. “I don’t think the best way to support their teachers is to walk out of class. The best way is to be in class.”

On that note, after about half an hour of yelling and chanting and waving signs during a cold afternoon, the students cleared the field and went back to class.

A small number of students at John Stubbs Memorial school walked out of classes, as did a few dozen students at Belmont secondary, who staged a subdued rally outside the school’s front doors at 2 p.m. for about 15 minutes.

It didn’t take long for the group to disperse as many spoke of going to the mall or home, leaving only two students who wanted to bring attention to the teachers’ dispute with the province.

“I want to support our teachers. I don’t think what the government is doing to them is fair,” said Grade 11 student Jacob Wilson. “Some classes are really over crowded.”

“In English class we had to sit on a sofa,” said Farisha Ali, explaining there weren’t  enough desks in the room. “Who ever got there last had to sit on the sofa.”

— with files from Charla Huber and Tom Fletcher