The prospect of a full-blown strike at British Columbia schools is raising fears among parents and students over how the dispute will affect grades and admissions to postsecondary schools.
Both sides are under increasing pressure to reach a deal.
B.C.’s unionized teachers are to vote this week on whether to escalate job action to a full strike that could result in teachers being off the job as early as June 16 – nine school days before summer break begins, on June 27.
With the potential shutdown looming at the same time as final exams, students and parents are questioning whether the dispute could put students’ postsecondary plans at risk.
“My worry is how all of this is going to play out on university admission,” Wendy Duke, whose son is a Grade 12 student in West Vancouver, said on Monday.
“All their [students] admissions are contingent on what their marks are for the end of the year – and that’s all very chaotic right now. And there is a lot of confusion amongst the kids about what is going on,” she said.
The B.C. Public School Employers’ Association (BCPSEA) – the bargaining agent for B.C.’s 60 school boards – on Friday applied to the Labour Relations Board to have all services required for completion of report cards deemed essential. Those services include preparing and marking provincial exams and compiling final grades.
A decision on that application is pending.
In a bulletin to parents Sunday, the province said “every effort is being made” to ensure the strike does not delay students’ transition to the next grade or postsecondary education. The province also said B.C. postsecondary institutions are aware the strike might interrupt “the normal flow” of student marks.
The province also said it is unclear what would happen to summer-school classes – which some students may require to make up a failing grade – if the dispute is not resolved before the end of the school year.
Although the majority of Grade 12 students have already been accepted to postsecondary institutions, students whose grades are on the cusp may need their final marks to secure their spots, said Vancouver School Board chairwoman Patti Bacchus.
Those most at risk are Grade 12 students who may have been counting on provincial exams, such as the Grade 12 English exam, to boost their final grades.
Although most postsecondary schools in B.C. are aware of the situation and willing to make concessions, students who are applying to institutions outside of the province or the country could face some challenges by having their final grades delayed, Ms. Bacchus said.
The uncertainty around the teachers’ strike was in stark contrast to a tentative settlement between the government and the school support workers. That deal, announced Sunday, covers about 34,000 workers, including education assistants, caretakers, support workers and bus drivers, and was reached after five days of bargaining.
Talks for a new teachers’ contract began last year and have proceeded in fits and starts since.
On Monday, B.C. Education Minister Peter Fassbender said he hopes the tentative deal with support staff would set an example.
“I saw five days of hard bargaining where CUPE represented their members very well, the employers’ negotiators met with them, they stayed in that room, they bargained hard, and they came out with a result,” Mr. Fassbender said on Monday.
The support workers’ agreement is between BCPSEA and the K-12 Presidents’ Council. The Canadian Union of Public Employees (CUPE), which represents about 27,000 support workers, is the biggest member of the council.
The tentative agreement features an “employee support grant” to make up for wages lost by workers who missed work as a result of not crossing B.C. Teachers’ Federation picket lines.
The BCTF began limited job action in April and launched rotating strikes on May 26. The parties remain far apart on issues including wages and class size and composition. A long-running court battle between teachers and the provincial government hangs over the negotiations. Two court rulings have found in favour of the teachers in relation to contract-stripping legislation implemented in 2002. The province has appealed the most recent court ruling and a hearing is scheduled for the fall.
Districts are concerned about the potential impact of a full strike on exams and postsecondary admissions, said Teresa Rezansoff, president of the B.C. School Trustees Association, the umbrella group for B.C.’s 60 school boards.
“Of course we are concerned about it,” she said, adding that the teachers’ strike vote and the LRB decision are not yet known. Negotiations are still taking place, she said.
“Although all of these things are going on, we are bargaining,” she said. “If as trustees, we weren’t feeling that we could get to a resolution, we wouldn’t have representation at the table.”
School boards are required to provide a minimum number of teaching hours to students, but the Ministry of Education says it would likely waive that requirement in the event of a full-scale strike, because it is so late in the year when most of the learning has already taken place.