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Teaching dispute threatens recess

Jan 19 2012

The labour dispute between B.C. teachers and the provincial government threatens to wipe out recess in Saanich schools.

Managers and other senior staff took over the job of supervising playgrounds in September, when teachers began withholding duties in order to press their contract demands.

But after nearly five months of job action, the extra workload on senior staff is undermining the district's ability to manage day-to-day operations, a report to the Saanich school board says. Superintendent Keven Elder says the district's management team is struggling to stay on top of staffing, payroll, transportation, planning, and health and safety issues.

In addition, trustees decided in December to ease the load on managers by deploying school psychologists, speech therapists and First Nations education assistants to help with playground supervision. But the move means vulnerable students are now losing up to eight a hours of help a week, Elder said.

With no end to the dispute in sight, he suggests the board reconsider the controversial option of moving recess to the end of the day.

Under the proposal, classes would end 15 minutes early at some schools and students would be supervised until regular dismissal. Teachers would continue to manage and supervise additional breaks during class time, as happens now.

The board was scheduled to debate the proposal Wednesday, but the meeting was moved to next week because of the weather.

The idea of cancelling or shifting recess met with stiff opposition from parents when it was first broached in December. A report to the board showed 101 of 104 parent responses disagreed with the move.

"For the physical and mental well-being for the children, we think it's essential the they be afforded the opportunity to have a break from their work," Nancy Borden, vice-president of the Confederation of Parent Advisory Councils of Saanich, said Wednesday.

She expressed concern about vulnerable students losing time with specialists, but said that is a choice that trustees and administrators have made.

The B.C. Teachers' Federation is trying to put pressure on administrators without affecting students, said Borden, who also heads the PAC at Bayside Middle School. "It is the administration that is downloading this onto the kids and the parents who work full-time are now going to have to make arrangements for their children at the end of the school day."

Elder said in a December briefing note that he agrees with the sentiment of protecting students from the dispute. But he noted the district faces a "real risk to our ability to run the district in service to those very children and families."

Board chairman Wayne Hunter said it is unclear how the board will handle the issue, but he believes that something has to be done.

"We're finding that there's just too much time out of the office for our executive," he said. "Not only are you trying to run this year a little thinner than you would, but you're trying to get plans in place for next year."

The use of psychologists and other specialists to supervise playgrounds also poses a problem, he said. "There are those kids that have special needs — have some real required extra support — that we're also neglecting," he said.

lkines@timescolonist.com

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