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Spectre of further teacher job action threatens grad events

Mar 23 2012

With B.C. teachers set to vote on job action next month, concern is rising about the chance it could effect graduation events and other end-of-school-year gatherings.

“I’m very concerned about graduation, because at Belmont Secondary, it’s a 100 per cent teacher-volunteer project,” said Stephanie Longstaff, president of the Sooke Parents’ Education Advisory Council.

Still, Sooke School District superintendent Jim Cambridge said there are options that can be considered, and added that the teachers’ vote, planned for April 17 and 18, is still some time away.

“From our point of view, it would be really disappointing if teachers weren’t participating in grad events, but it doesn’t mean it’s not going to happen. There’s still principals and vice-principals and parents that can help out.”

Management staff at school districts have already been active during the school year with duties such as recess supervision, which is often done by teachers. That has happened because teachers have refused to do certain tasks as part of a “teach-only” routine linked to their ongoing contract dispute.

The B.C. Teachers’ Federation and the B.C. Public School Employers’ Association — the bargaining unit for B.C.’s public education boards — began negotiations last March.

The BCTF announced Wednesday that the April vote by its 41,000 members would help determine whether teachers walk out or step back from voluntary extracurricular offerings such as graduation events, sports and clubs.

A BCTF report from 2010 found that about half of teachers are involved in extracurricular activities, with secondary-school teachers spending around twice as much time as those at the elementary level.

Tara Ehrcke, who leads the 1,500-member Greater Victoria Teachers’ Association, said it is possible that graduation activities could be affected if extracurricular work is halted.

“The vote contemplates a withdrawal of voluntary activities, so it depends on the how the graduation ceremony’s organized,” she said, noting that there are variations from school to school.

“If release time is provided and if it’s during school time, then there would be no disruption. If it’s conducted in the evening or after school and teachers are volunteering their time to organize, then it could be impacted.”

Boards of education could play a role in making sure graduation events take place, Ehrcke said. “I believe boards, if they chose to put in a bit in the way of resources, could ensure that [the events] happened if [teachers] were not doing that voluntary work.”

Both Ehrcke and Sean Hayes, her counterpart with the 600-member Saanich Teachers’ Association, have said that the majority of their members have some sort of extracurricular role at their schools, from sports to music to sponsoring clubs.

“The chess club, the library club, a huge amount of work gets done on a volunteer basis,” Ehrcke said.

Several sports seasons have already wrapped up for high-school athletes, but track and field and rugby are among those still on the horizon.

Longstaff pointed out that teachers in the Sooke School District had their own vote two weeks ago, and came out in favour at that time of withdrawing participation in extracurriculars. Saanich teachers have done the same.

So far, it has been left up to teachers at individual schools to decide how strict to be, she said. “It’s a waiting game again.”

jwbell@timescolonist.com

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