Last week’s vote by the BC Teachers’ Federation (BCTF) to withdraw voluntary extra curricular activities in schools across the province will be felt locally.
Last week teachers voted 73 per cent in favour of withdrawing activities as the next step in the union’s fight against the provincial government’s Education Improvement Act (Bill 22) which is aimed at settling the labour dispute that has lingered since last June.
“Those situations are very difficult for the teachers,” said Tom Newell, president of the Nelson District Teachers’ Association. “Those are things that teachers count on and have worked on for years.
“It’s difficult for everyone involved, but we felt when they [provincial government] make everything illegal and put in these draconian laws… it’s really difficult to find any wiggle room. We don’t a full-scale walkout so you are left with withdrawing the stuff that which they can’t force you to do. Often much of your career is based on this because you love doing it so much.”
Kootenay Lake School District superintendant Jeff Jones told the Star that the latest move in the dispute is troubling.
“We respect the right that teachers have to be in opposition. They are allowed to protest if they feel they have a just and valid reason to do that,” said Jones. “It concerns me gravely that we have gotten to this position where there is standoff and teachers feel they have they take the positions that they are.”
Extra curricular activities are wide ranging. They include sports teams, drama productions, graduation activities, homework clubs and end of school year field trips.
Last week the president of the Nanaimo District Teachers’ Association told media that there would be punishment for those members who do not adhere to the results of the vote. Derek DeGear told media that could range from apologies to fellow union members and even fines.
At this point the Nelson District Teachers’ Association has not set out a clear path for local teachers.
“The executive has not met to discuss the aspect of what would happen if a member didn’t follow the collective action,” said Newell. “At this point we don’t have a plan in place to discipline members that do volunteer their activities. That could change, but at this point in time we have no plans to do that.”
At the board office, Jones has also received very little direction as to how exactly the BCTF is planning on carrying forward.
“We are still unclear as to the BCTF’s position on the level of autonomy they are going to allow teachers,” said Jones. “There has been no formal statement to me or the district on that.”
If a teacher decides not to go along with the union, Newell said it would be a personal choice.
“At this point, nothing [would happen],” Newell said. “They would just have to live with their conscious of not joining their colleagues.”
Many students and parents depend on extra curricular activities to enrich school life. Newell feels the local union will find support in its latest move.
“I think that most parents understand that we wouldn’t do something like this callously and without a lot of thought,” Newell said. “This is really difficult on the teachers. I find that most of the time that there is very little hard edge against the teachers and sometimes it is just outright support that they understand the difficult situation the government has created in this province.”
Jones said finishing off the school year under the new arrangement would not be easy for students or parents.
“I have heard it and I feel it,” Jones said about concern being voiced. “Imagine that this is your first year of school or your graduating year of school or anywhere in between… it’s your one shot at it. This might have been the one year that kids would have gotten to participate in a drama production or a certain team. That one shot opportunity has now been taken away.”
That the dispute has reached this level is very disappointing for the local board boss.
“For me it’s a career,” Jones explained. “I may face this situation again in my career, I may not. We are all learning lessons that we can apply once we have some sort of settlement. It’s not a one-shot deal for most of us, but for our kids it is.”