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B.C. students planning mass walkout to protest labour disruption

Thousands of B.C. students are taking to social media to plan province-wide walkouts on Wednesday to protest a labour dispute that has left them feeling as if they're stuck between divorcing parents.

Some students are planning to walk out of their classes at 9 a.m. and protest in the streets. Others say they are going to to cut class altogether.

Victoria Barker, who spearheaded the initiative by launching a Facebook page called BC Student Walkout for Students, says she would like to see the bargaining process change for good, so that future students don't have to experience what she has.

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Ms. Barker, who is in Grade 12 at Lord Tweedsmuir Secondary School in Surrey, missed a couple of weeks of class during elementary school due to labour strife, and a few days in Grade 10 while in the midst of provincial exams. She said she's frustrated with losing classroom time and not being able to get help from her teachers during lunch break.

"We're not taking sides," Ms. Barker said.

"We just want to say that we're tired of being stuck in the middle of the dispute between the BCTF and the government, and we'd really like them to come together and reach an agreement sooner rather than later."

She's also concerned about whether her commencement ceremony, which is scheduled for two weeks from now, will go ahead as planned. "Everyone's getting tired of all the unknowns," she said.

Adam Dobrer, who is in Grade 9 at Hugh McRoberts Secondary School in Richmond, said he's not sure if he's going to participate – he doesn't want to risk getting suspended for cutting class. But he said 50 of his friends on Facebook have indicated they will take part in the walkouts.

He was in the middle of a large project when the job action started. He believes his grade on the assignment suffered because he wasn't able to get as much help as he needed outside of the classroom.

"The longer this goes on, the more me and my friends are at risk of having our grades drop," he said. "I think it's really silly how both sides say they're doing this for the students when students don't have a seat at the negotiating table. … A lot of students are sick of it. They're sick of being put in the middle. And they want this dispute to be resolved permanently, not for two or three years."

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Although Ms. Barker and another student are credited with launching the Facebook page, Mr. Dobrer said the movement is very decentralized because the walkouts are taking place at various schools. "Nobody's really in charge as far as I can tell," he said.

While Ms. Barker said the point of the movement was not to pick sides, some students planning on participating in the walkout expressed sympathy for the B.C. Teachers' Federation.

Cameron Fox, a Grade 12 student at West Vancouver Secondary School, said he hopes the walkouts show both sides that students are not going to be complicit pawns in the battle between the BCTF and the provincial government.

"Ideally public opinion would change enough that the government no longer feels they have a mandate from voters to continue to suppress teachers in this way and to disrespect education," he said.

Other students simply want the ordeal to be over. "I just want the negotiations to be done with so that we can stop worrying about it and other students in the future can stop worrying about it," said Kerri McIsaac, a Grade 11 student at Mount Elizabeth Secondary School in Kitimat. "It definitely has had an influence on my marks."

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