With days ticking down to the scheduled start of the school year without any new talks planned in the teachers strike, parents may have to scramble to either get ready for school or find alternative daycare.
“There’s not a lot of time left,” said B.C. School Trustees Association president Theresa Rezansoff. But “schools will be able to open on Sept. 2 if a deal is reached.”
If a there’s a last-minute deal between the striking teachers and the province, it will be up to individual school boards on whether schools open on time or not.
“A decision on school opening will likely not be made until Friday to provide both parties with the maximum amount of time to reach a negotiated settlement,” said Vancouver school superintendent Steve Cardwell in an online letter to parents.
If there is a settlement before Sept. 2, all schools are expected to open that day but possibly with “disruptions in regular instruction,” he said.
If there’s no deal before then, parents are asked not to send their children to school, said Cardwell.
There’s still a big “if.”
B.C.’s 40,000 public school teachers, on strike since June 17, have begun returning to the picket lines. Pickets were set up Monday in Langley, Kamloops and some smaller districts. By Wednesday or Thursday, picket lines will be set up in all districts “to try to put pressure on the government and to make visible the teachers’ desire to return to work on Sept. 2,” said a B.C. Teachers Federation spokeswoman, who said she wasn’t authorized to be named.
Some 400 union representatives wrapped up meetings with union officials on Monday in Kamloops, where they gathered to get updates on negotiations and to make decisions, including passing a motion to re-erect picket lines this week, she said.
There have been no formal negotiations over the summer and neither the BCTF nor negotiators on behalf of the province, the B.C. Public School Employers Association, responded to requests for comment Monday, citing a news blackout.
Veteran mediator Vince Ready is available for talks but the sides are too far apart to even sit down together.
BCTF president Jim Iker said in Kamloops over the weekend he was ready to resume talks.
“I’m pleased to hear Mr. Iker is eager to get back to the bargaining table,” said Education Minister Peter Fassbender in an emailed statement to The Province. “I’m confident Mr. Ready will start mediation as soon as he believes it will be productive.”
Fassbender repeated that “government has no desire to legislate an end to this dispute.”
He wasn’t available for further comment on whether the province is feeling pressured by planned picket lines.
Meanwhile, the Vancouver Secondary Teachers Association has asked union members in an online poll their preference among three options — full, rotational or work-to-rule strikes — if no deal is reached.
VSTA president Debbie Pawluk said she couldn’t release the results because the poll is “internal communication.”
The main issues in the dispute are wages and class size and composition.
The government has said wage hikes have to be in line with agreements signed by other public-sector employees.
The Liberal government has promised parents $40 a day for each day of school missed to cover childcare costs.
— With files from The Canadian Press