Teachers striking across the province for three days next week are prohibited from forming picket lines, but those in Abbotsford will hand out leaflets and carry signs on sticks, said the president of the Abbotsford District Teachers’ Association.
Jeff Dunton said teachers will gather in front of Abbotsford schools, taking turns over two shifts, but they will not block anyone from entering the facilities.
“There will be teachers handing out leaflets to anyone who wants them,” he said.
He said only signs worn around the neck are considered to be part of a picket line, but ones attached to sticks are not.
Abbotsford school district is advising parents to make alternative arrangements for their children on Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday.
Superintendent Kevin Godden said although the schools will be open, students will not receive instruction or proper supervision.
Childcare facilities such as daycares, preschools and Strong Start programs located on school district premises will remain open, as will school and district offices.
“We regret the inconvenience this will cause for families, are hopeful that this situation will come to speedy resolution, and that normal school operations will resume as quickly as possible,” Godden said.
Meanwhile, a Facebook page, BC High School Student Walkout, has indicated that more than 15,000 students will walk out of class tomorrow (Friday) at 2 p.m. in support of teachers.
Most will gather at the Vancouver Art Gallery, but Facebook and Twitter posts indicate that some schools in Abbotsford will hold their own walkouts.
However, not everyone is in favour.
“How will walking out possibly help? We’re just walking out and defying the teachers and faculty, the people for the strike,” said one online post from a 15-year-old Abbotsford student. “That’s not defiance; that’s early dismissal!”
A student in support of the walkout said, “This is not about cutting out early; it’s about showing the government we, as the students, can also make a change and – guess what? – you cannot put in legislation to get us to go to school.”
The B.C. Teachers’ Federation served strike notice for Monday through Wednesday after almost 28,000 members agreed to such action out of the 32,209 who voted earlier this week.
Nearly 9,000 teachers did not vote, and more than 10 per cent – or 4,263 – voted against strike action.
The union was required to give two school days’ notice before being in a legal strike position, under a Labour Relations Board ruling on essential services that allows for up to three consecutive days of full strike action next week.
The LRB ruling prohibits picket lines, allowing unionized support staff to go to work.
The B.C. government began debate Thursday on legislation that would prohibit further strikes until Aug. 31 and extend the current teacher pay and benefits for another six months, while a mediator works with the BCTF and the B.C. Public School Employers’ Association.
The BCTF has been without a contract since last June, as the two sides wrangle over issues such as class size and special needs support.
Education Minister George Abbott and Premier Christy Clark would not specifiy how long the government would wait before passing legislation, but it likely won’t be in time to prevent a three-day strike.
BCTF president Susan Lambert has dismissed the legislation and restrictions on mediation to work within the government’s two-year “net zero” wage mandate as “bullying tactics.”
She said an extra $30 million fund for special needs support this year, on top of more than $800 million currently budgeted, is a “crumb” that won’t even cover inflation.
It’s not clear what, if any, further action the BCTF will take after next week, if the legislation has not yet passed.
– with files from Tom Fletcher, Black Press