Board of education delays decision on two-week spring break

Abbotsford trustees want more information on changes to the School Act, following the implementation of Bill 22.

Abbotsford school district superintendent Kevin Godden

Abbotsford school district superintendent Kevin Godden

A vote on the proposed 2013 two-week spring break in Abbotsford has been delayed due to changes in the B.C. School Act.

The board of education was set to vote on the two-week holiday at its public meeting on Monday night. But district superintendent Kevin Godden said it’s not yet clear how the school calendar issue and the process that has been followed to date will be affected.

Under the School Act, districts have been required to consult the public whenever they want to approve a spring break that differs from the one-week standard established by the Ministry of Education.

Trustees were permitted to “void” a provision of teachers’ collective agreements that laid out working conditions, such as weekly instructional hours and the length of the school day, which are based on a one-week break.

Districts that have approved a two-week vacation have relied on that portion of the School Act to go outside of the collective agreement and add extra minutes on to each school day to compensate for the additional days off.

However, Bill 22 – legislation recently introduced to impose a six-month cooling-off period in the ongoing dispute between teachers and their employer – has repealed that section.

Hugh Finlayson, CEO of the B.C. Public School Employers’ Association (BCPSEA), said this means the School Act no longer automatically overrides teachers’ contract provisions when the school calendar is changed from the ministry standard.

He said BCPSEA is already dealing with two local teacher union grievances – in Greater Victoria and Nanaimo – on the details of calendar changes.

Those grievances relate to pay and benefit agreements based on each teaching day. Going to a two-week spring break would result in fewer teaching days, with each remaining day extended by a few minutes.

Jeff Dunton, president of the Abbotsford District Teachers’ Association, said in the past teachers have been consulted on the issue but, ultimately, their views could have been overstepped.

He said the changes in the legislation now require districts to negotiate any calendar decisions with teachers. He said he will arrange a meeting with district staff, likely sometime this week, to discuss any concerns.

Among them is compensation for the district’s 150 on-call teachers, who Dunton said are left with five fewer days of potential work due to the extra week of vacation.

Otherwise, he does not anticipate much conflict on the issue.

“Generally, teachers are in favour of a two-week break – that it does allow some time to recoup,” he said.

Abbotsford has had a two-week spring break for several years, and trustees faced huge public backlash in 2006 and 2010 when they tried to return to a one-week holiday. Last year, they also faced opposition when they attempted to move the dates of the vacation.

Next year’s spring break was proposed to run the weeks of March 18 and 22.

The board of education must make a final decision by May 26.