School strike concerns for students in Abbotsford

Student of International Baccalaureate worries about the effect of ongoing teachers' strike

Pranav Arya studies at the Abbotsford Community Library next to his school

Pranav Arya studies at the Abbotsford Community Library next to his school

Alex BUTLER and Jeff NAGEL

Public classes are out, but Pranav Arya – a 16-year-old student heading into Grade 12 – was hard at work on school projects in the Abbotsford Community Library on Thursday.

His school, the neighbouring Abbotsford senior secondary, remains behind picket lines and it is still unclear when classes may begin.

Arya studies in the International Baccalaureate (IB) program, which assigns some work for the summer months.

He is among many students who are growing concerned about missing class time.

Arya has an exam in May that is worth the majority of his grade, which will remain the same regardless of how many days of school there are.

“Every day that I miss, other students are getting to work and learning.”

Arya said if the strike continues until October, he may have an issue, predicting that weekends and break will be effected to put in extra study time.

He wants to study engineering with a minor in business at the University of British Columbia and is worried about applications for scholarships.

“It will be more difficult to say what I’ve done in the last year, when other students across the country haven’t been hindered by the strike.”

His involvement at school goes past high-level academics. He had hopes to start a debate team, but he is unable to talk to his teachers. The Key Club service group he’s a member of can’t meet.

Arya is on the football team, which is playing with the help of parents and community members, but he’s worried about cuts to the season and the impact on a championship drive.

Although Arya will stay involved with clubs, he wonders if Grade 9’s entering high school will be overwhelmed by a late start and less inclined to take on extracurriculars.

He continues to monitor the information coming from the government and the union.

“IB is about learning how to think about what you’re being told,” explained Ayra, saying it seems to him that both sides are putting blame on the other.

But he added that the province is comparing teachers to other workers in the public sector, instead of teachers around the country, and there is a need to place a higher level of respect on what teachers do.

He’s hoping for a resolution that will put him back into a classroom soon.

Kevin Godden, superintendent of Abbotsford schools, said the district doesn’t yet have plans on how to make up for lost time.

“It’s safe to say that we have to take some direction from the ministry of education on this.”

He also said it’s important to consult with teachers to work out scheduling issues, but that cannot be done while they are on strike.

He said it is particularly important in order to assist students in Grades 10 to 12.

“They are at the end of their K-12 journey and the courses that they have to take, especially if they have some impact on their post-secondary education, we have to give some serious thought to how we will make up credits for those kids.”

But he added that teachers are dedicated to their students. “I know they will do their best when this is over to get on with it.”

Peter Fassbender, minister of education, told The News that ministry staff are working hard on plans to mitigate the impact of missed class time.

“I don’t have specifics. There are all kinds of options – looking at extending the year, shortening Christmas, spring break… extending the days. But right now there is no firm plan because our hope is that teachers would be willing to suspend their strike action while we try to get a negotiated and/or mediated settlement.”

B.C. Teachers’ Federation president Jim Iker ruled out a two-week truce the province proposed last week and is still offering.

“The government remains entrenched and unwilling to be flexible,” he told reporters. “We’re not suspending any strike right now.”

Fassbender has vowed the government won’t legislate the teachers back to work, as it has several times in the past.

The strike began with rotating walkouts in the spring and turned into a complete school shutdown in mid-June.

There were virtually no negotiations through the summer until a last-minute effort at exploratory talks led by mediator Vince Ready began last week.

Ready walked away last Saturday, declaring an impasse with the two sides too far apart for mediation.

Provincial government negotiator Peter Cameron said the government is not interested in binding arbitration to settle the strike, as it would be empowering one person to force through a final decision that might be extremely costly. Nor, he said, is it the optimum way to reach a result best for students in classrooms or that the two sides can live with.

“The parties end up not really having made the hard decisions and owning the outcome,” Cameron said of arbitration.

BCTF vice-president Glen Hansman said the union “might be open” to arbitration but doesn’t expect interest from the province.

For upcoming graduates, Fassbender told The News he has been talking with advanced education minister Amrik Virk, who he said “has been talking to universities as far as entry requirements and those kinds of things and I’m sure we’ll find a way to deal with that.”

Asked what he would do to end future labour strife between teachers and government, Fassbender told The News that involves having a longer-term agreement “so that we’re not always on the labour treadmill, which we’ve been on for decades,” and setting up ways to work on contract issues on an ongoing basis and not simply at the next round of negotiations.

If those efforts were made, “I think we would find ourselves working more in partnership on the future of education for every student in our system, rather than into this kind of standoff on the labour side.”

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