The head of the local teachers’ union is dismissing rumours of a strike as “completely unfounded.”
“I have no idea where that has come from,” said Don Peterson, president of the Saanich Teachers’ Association, who has heard the rumour himself. “Somebody asked me about it (Monday) and I have no idea where it has come from. We have a collective agreement. We are not in a position to do any form of job action.”
Any strike vote by the membership of the British Columbia Teachers’ Federation (BCTF) must follow an internal process and no such process is underway, said Peterson. “There has been no conversation about holding a strike vote,” he said.
Peterson said he does not know how the rumours might have originated or whether its intent is malicious. “Somebody is probably misinformed, most likely.”
The provincial government and 45,000 unionized teachers across the province reached a new three-year-agreement in the spring of 2020 that gives teachers an annual two per cent wage increase, retroactive to July 1, 2019. In School District 63, the agreement applies to 650 unionized teachers. Last fall, SD 63 was the site of a three-week labour conflict involving unionized support workers calling for higher wages.
The strike kept more than 7,000 K-12 students living in parts of Saanich and the three Peninsula communities out of school. The rumours of a teachers’ strike likely further frayed the nerves of local parents, their memories still fresh of the fall strike, followed by the shutdown of schools in spring as a response to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Peterson dismissed the rumours of a strike on Tuesday as teachers returned to schools across British Columbia, with students set to return full time to in-person classes on Thursday against the backdrop of rising COVID-19 cases.
The provincial government’s back-to-school plan consists of three broad categories: hands-on health and safety measures like daily health screenings and masks when physical distancing is not possible; additional funding for protective equipment, and the cohort system, whereby groups of students and staff remain together throughout the school quarter, semester or year and who primarily interact with each other.
Peterson said teachers would like to see the provincial government use available federal funding to help reduce the “density” of classes – that is the number of students physically present in classrooms. “There is nothing significantly different in my mind other than having the cohort,” he said.
“They talk about the cohorts system being a safety measures,” he said. “For me, it is more of a tracing mechanism, an easier way to do contact tracing.”
Overall, Peterson said the membership is concerned about the provincial plan, but also praises the approach toward masks. According to the provincial government, masks will be “required for staff, middle and secondary students in high-traffic areas such as buses and in common areas such as hallways, or anytime outside of their learning group whenever physical distancing cannot be maintained.”
The provincial government has spent up to $1.5 million for the purchase of masks.
In a message posted on the school district’s website, SD63 superintendent Dave Eberwein said staff have been working “diligently” behind the scenes to ready schools for September. “And as we ready ourselves for another school year, we are finding another new ‘normal,’” he said.
“I am very proud of the work we have done and will continue to do to provide the best possible educational experience for your children in a safe and welcoming environment,” he said.