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Demonstrators react while listening to B.C .Teachers' Federation President Susan Lambert speech during a rally in Vancouver, British Columbia March 7, 2012.

Ben Nelms/ Reuters/Ben Nelms/ Reuters

As the school year draws to a close in British Columbia, teachers and their employers are wrangling over report cards, making it unclear when students and parents can expect them and what they might contain.

School districts, represented by the B.C. Public School Employers' Association, want report cards to be issued as soon as possible and to reflect students' progress from the beginning of the school year in September.

The British Columbia Teachers' Federation, meanwhile, maintains the government is manufacturing a controversy by insisting that report cards be issued right away. The BCTF says teachers would be entitled to additional compensation if they were forced to prepare report cards for periods during which they were on strike.

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"There is no crisis," Carmela Allevato, a lawyer representing the BCTF, said Monday at a B.C. Labour Relations Board hearing on the issue. "There is no evidence that things cannot happen for students and parents in the absence of a report card."

The BCPSEA likens teachers' refusal to prepare report cards – after they've returned to work after a legal strike – to mill workers refusing to process logs that piled up during a strike or health-care workers refusing to perform operations that were cancelled as a result of a labour dispute.

"One can't go back in time but they need not be permanently cancelled," Delayne Sartison, a lawyer for the BCPSEA, told the hearing.

The two sides squared off after the employers' group filed an application asking the labour board to require teachers to issue report cards. The issue has simmered on and off for months, especially after the Education Ministry ordered report cards to be issued and sent home last fall even though they would be mostly blank.

Under limited job action that began last September, teachers were allowed to withdraw from some tasks, including preparing report cards. That first phase of job action was followed by a three-day legal walkout in March. Bill 22, passed last month, made further strike action illegal at the risk of hefty fines.

Ms. Allevato said teachers are back at work, are prepared to issue report cards for the rest of the year and have been communicating with parents in other ways.

The BCTF maintains the employers' application relating to report cards is politically motivated.

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"Its purpose has nothing to do with pedagogical concerns or what is good for the kids and everything to do with power and politics," Ms. Allevato said.

The labour board could dismiss the application or issue an interim order and hold a longer hearing on the issue. A decision is expected this week.

The BCTF has clashed with Education Minister George Abbott for months over the government's net-zero mandate – which requires new contracts to cost no more than the agreements they replace – and the government's response to a court ruling last year.

That court decision found parts of education legislation introduced in 2002 to be unconstitutional and gave the government a year, until April of 2012, to fix it.

In response, the province brought in Bill 22, which includes a $165-million Learning Improvement Fund and restores some bargaining rights that were removed the 2002 legislation. The BCTF says the funds fall far short of what the government cut through its previous bills and that bargaining rights won't be restored until 2013.

Teachers are to vote this week on additional strategies, including a potential provincewide withdrawal of extracurricular activities, to fight Bill 22.

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