West Shore teachers united with colleagues across the province Monday with an after school demonstration in the wake of the government’s threat to legislate their contract.
Teachers gathered at David Cameron and Colwood elementary schools as well as Belmont and Edward Milne community school. At Belmont, about 50 teachers held waved signs to the supportive honks from passing cars.
“We’ve been hearing we will be legislated back to work,” said Ruth McDonald, a special education teacher at Belmont secondary. “They are not negotiating fairly with us.”
McDonald said she has struggled to provide for the 49 students in her case load.
“I started just as case loads increased,” McDonald said. “I am spread incredibly thin and I am trying to support these students and I am trying to support their teachers.”
Teachers have been in Phase 1 of their job action since September, where they have refused to conduct administrative duties and have focused on teaching.
The B.C. Teachers’ Federation announced it has applied to the Labour Relations Board to set the next phase of a legal job action, but the local teachers’ union said this demonstration won’t go beyond Monday.
“This is one day only. It’s not affirmative action and not a picket, it’s only a demonstration to get some attention,” said Patrick Henry, president of the Sooke Teachers Association.
Key issues are class size and getting support for special needs students, Henry said.
“This is not about salary, it’s not about getting a raise,” he said. “The most important thing is education funding.”
“I don’t want a wage increase necessarily,” McDonald added. “Most of us would take zero if we could have good schools.”
On Veterans Memorial Parkway, Sharon Jones, a teacher of the deaf and hard of hearing at David Cameron, said she wants the public to understand how much teachers care about their students.
“I think in school what we’re trying to teach kids is that you can compromise and you can solve problems when you come together and talk,” Jones said. “I think they’re doing the opposite of what we try to teach kids to do everyday in the classroom.”
Laurie Tighe, a teacher at Millstream elementary, finds it discouraging the government still won’t bargain beyond its zero-net mandate.
“I felt really upset that it was same as usual,” Tighe said. “They can’t negotiate so they legislate.”
Sooke School District trustee Bob Phillips said the potential escalation of the job action is a tough situation – teachers have a right to strike, and the government has a right to demand a net-zero mandate.
“This puts SD 62 trustees and staff in a hard place,” he said. “We’ve had some of the best completion rates in years. Our teachers have worked very hard and do a great job with the kids. The Ministry (of Education) has been good to us too with two new schools and modulars.”
The B.C. School Trustees Association has called for teachers and the government to cool off, return to the bargaining table and commit to “expedited” mediation.
“We can’t do good K-12 policy in this province without the teachers. We need their voice at the table,” Phillips said.
–with files from Kyle Wells and Edward Hill