The reality check that can come in school report cards will take a different form this year.
Instead of bombshells relating to grades or behaviour, parents will see attendance records and not much else, the result of a labour dispute between B.C. teachers and the provincial government now in its third month.
The prospect of less-than-detailed report cards has been widely discussed since October, when the province ordered schools to prepare and issue report cards even though teachers had decided not to ready them, as part of phase one of their job action.
Even so, the mostly blank documents – to be issued this month and in December – may come as a surprise to some parents, potentially resulting in more pressure on both parties to resolve the dispute.
“Parents won’t begin to feel it until they actually see that report card come home,” Tom Ferris, chair of the Greater Victoria School District, said on Tuesday. Parents have traditionally looked to report cards for feedback in areas such as homework, study habits and performance, he added.
“As a parent, every shred of evidence is important,” he said.
Not everyone is convinced of report cards’ value or potential impact on the labour dispute. The British Columbia Teachers’ Federation says that teachers are communicating with parents through other means, including meetings, telephone conversations and e-mail, and that hours spent preparing report cards can now be put to more productive use.
But report cards are required under B.C.’s School Act, and last month the province ordered schools to prepare them. For classes taught by a principal or vice-principals, students may receive comments. In most other instances, report cards will include a student’s name, course names, teachers’ names and an attendance record.
“For some parents, it might be the most obvious indicator that there is job action,” said Surrey School District communications manager Doug Strachan.
With education deemed an essential service since 2001, teachers can only take limited strike action, which is overseen by the Labour Relations Board.
Under phase one of the job action, teachers have stopped performing some activities, including attending staff meetings and supervising detention. That phase also included teachers not writing report cards.
Last month, the B.C. Public School Employers’ Association made an application to the Labour Relations Board asking that the LRB require teachers to prepare and distribute the reports. The application also asked the LRB to require the union to pay school districts 15 per cent of members’ salaries and benefits per month to pay back districts for work that teachers are not performing.
That request, if approved, would amount to millions of dollars a month and drain BCTF’s strike fund within weeks.
The BCTF has until Nov. 14 to file a response to that application, after which the LRB is expected to determine whether an oral hearing is required.
The teachers contract expired June 30, 2011. Bargaining began last March, but the sides are far apart on issues including wages, with the province sticking to its net-zero mandate and the BCTF calling for increases to put B.C. teachers in line with their counterparts in other provinces.