In a normal year, North Vancouver mother Laura Meyers would be going through the familiar, perennial back-to-school routine right about now: picking up school supplies, shopping for new clothes and getting ready for the year ahead for her 13-year-old son Denis.
But not this year.
“I don’t believe (school) is going to be starting in two weeks. I simply don’t believe that’s even remotely a possibility at this point. It just doesn’t seem like it. So I’m just going to carry on in summer mode until I hear otherwise,” she said.
With two weeks to go until the scheduled start of the school year, there’s no guarantee that the B.C. schools strike will be resolved by then, and many, like Meyers, are doubtful.
That uncertainty is weighing heavily on several groups, including students, parents, and teachers.
Meyers, a single mother, said the most difficult part for her family is not knowing what’s happening with support services for her son, who has special needs.
Denis, heading into Grade 7 in Deep Cove, has Down syndrome, is hard of hearing, and is non-verbal. He requires one-on-one support in the classroom, but Meyers said they still don’t know what kind of support Denis will receive, or who it will come from.
“For a government that claims a ‘Families First’ agenda, it just seems laughable to me,” Meyers said.
The government’s proposal to pay families $40 per affected student for each day the dispute continues didn’t sit well with Meyers, either.
“It just feels so much like they’re trying to buy votes. Go to the table and talk. I don’t want your stupid $40 a day,” she said.
Some B.C. parents have already come up with a plan to put that $40 a day to use in a way they hope will help out all sides.
The Province spoke with public school teachers in two school districts who are planning to provide care and educational lessons for kids if the strike continues into September.
One Lower Mainland teacher said she and a colleague were approached by local parents who know and trust them, offering to pay them $40 per day per student, plus some extra money for supplies, to instruct and look after a group of eight kids if school isn’t in session next month.
“It’s mutually beneficial for parents, teachers and the kids,” said the teacher.
“Parents need to go to work, their lives need to continue, and we need work, and kids need to be educated. So it makes sense.”
Some older students, like Cole Poirier, who’s heading into Grade 12 at Vancouver’s Sir Winston Churchill Secondary, said they worry about the strike’s impact on their prospects for getting into university.
Poirier said this past summer, he signed up for additional online courses to give himself the best possible chance to get into a good university.
Then at the end of July, after a month of working a full-time summer job and doing physics course work in the evenings and weekends, Poirier received an email letting him know that due to the unresolved labour dispute between the teachers union and the employer, his online courses were being discontinued.
Poirier said he is unsure about how, when or if he will receive credit for the course work he’s completed.
He remains hopeful things will work out, but he knows he’s not the only student feeling angry, frustrated and unsure about what will happen after Labour Day.
“I feel a bit like a hostage in this situation,” he said.
“I feel like I’m being used as a bargaining chip. I’m not being treated like a human being, but rather a pawn.
“I know that there’s plenty of other students who feel that way.”
Poirier said he knows the situation is difficult for parents with young schoolchildren, but added that for students in the senior years of high school, “this is our future that’s being put in jeopardy here.”
The B.C. Teachers’ Federation and the B.C. Public School Employers’ Association issued a joint statement last week, saying that labour mediator Vince Ready had agreed to help out and monitor the situation. Last Wednesday, Ready engaged in “exploratory talks” with both sides separately.
“The parties agreed that they will not engage in public discussion pending further discussions with Mr. Ready,” the joint statement said.
A Ministry of Education spokesman said Monday there was no further update on last week’s statement, and no timeline in place yet for when talks with Ready might resume.
David Ian Gray, a retail strategist from DIG360, said that for businesses who sell things like school supplies, electronics, and, to a lesser degree, kids’ clothing, the “back to school” season “is an incredibly important selling season. It’s vital.”
Gray said he expects larger national chain retailers will attempt a big marketing and promotional “back to school” push during the usual time over the last half of August, whether or not the strike is resolved.
Representatives from both London Drugs and Staples said it’s business as usual at their stores across B.C.