British Columbia teachers could withdraw supervision of extracurricular school activities in response to new government legislation, an action that would imperil sports teams, arts programs, clubs and even student graduation ceremonies this year.
About 700 B.C. Teachers' Federation members gathered in Vancouver Sunday for the union's annual general meeting where they debated how to best respond to the passing of Bill 22, which bans labour strikes or lockouts, among other measures.
The Liberal government's legislation, which came into effect Saturday, orders a six-month cooling-off period and demands an acrimonious contract dispute be sent to a mediator. However, according to materials seen by The Globe and Mail, teachers at the meeting were considering adopting a proposal that would include ordering members to "refrain from all extracurricular activities."
Such a move would threaten a host of student events and activities, including sports teams, clubs, drama productions, field trips and commencement ceremonies for students graduating from Grade 12.
"They are important things to teachers too. That tells you just how dire teachers are considering the situation and how serious this bill is," BCTF president Susan Lambert told reporters on Sunday.
Ms. Lambert refused to discuss details of other particular actions teachers may take, but said they were "discussing a full range of possibilities" and that educators were united in their "outrage" with the legislation.
"Bill 22 creates so much mischief in the public education system that teachers are very, very anxious about its implementation. Class size and composition limitations that were in legislation will be stripped by Bill 22," she said.
The BCTF president said the teachers were also considering "legal action" against the government and criticized B.C. Education Minister George Abbott for travelling to China to promote B.C.'s public-school system to foreign students in the midst of the dispute.
In a statement from Shanghai, Mr. Abbott said: "As someone who coached minor hockey for many years, I understand and appreciate the commitment of teachers who volunteer their time to support extra-curricular activities and I respect whatever decision individual teachers make about whether they will continue to volunteer their time."
B.C.'s 41,000 public-school teachers staged a three-day walkout earlier this month. The teachers had been seeking a 15-per-cent wage hike over three years.
Faced with limited options, the teachers are now looking at the extracurricular-activities boycott, according to Anne Whiteaker, president of the B.C. Confederation of Parent Advisory Councils. That would include graduation ceremonies, she said.
"We're hearing from students that that would just be terrible, and obviously there's some angst in that area," Ms. Whiteaker said in an interview Friday.
"It's not fair to the students. But at the same time I don't think it's fair to think that only teachers are able to volunteer."
Much of the planning for graduation ceremonies happens outside of regular school hours, putting it in jeopardy, along with school clubs and sports teams.
"If there's time in the school day for it, they will be doing that. They won't be doing things outside the instructional day," said Jason Karpuk, president of the Kamloops Thompson Teachers' Association, which voted on March 5 to withdraw from extracurricular services, as did teachers in several other districts, including Sooke and South Okanagan.
Ms. Whiteaker said the overall extracurricular boycott worries students and parents. "They're definitely concerned, especially when we look at musicals and other performances. They've been practising, rehearsing, doing all sorts of things to prepare for the showing of events and sports activities as well," she said.
Grad nights, as opposed to graduation ceremonies, likely would not be hindered because they can be planned and hosted privately, Ms. Whiteaker said. But convocations, like other out-of-class activities, require volunteers normally drawn from a pool of teachers or parents.
School districts vary on volunteer policy and liability insurance coverage for non-teachers. Each school would have to look into what barriers to overcome to allow more volunteers from the community, said Chilliwack Teachers' Association president Katharin Midzain.
The BCTF is expected to vote on its collective response to Bill 22 before Tuesday evening when the annual general meeting concludes. Any proposed action would then be voted on by teachers and could be implemented before students return from March break next week.