Students in Bulkley Valley public schools had no recess when they got back to class on Nov. 28.
School officials opted to cancel recess to give non-teaching staff a break. B.C.’s 41,000 public school teachers gave strike notice in early September, forcing non-teaching staff to take extra duties like supervising recess until contract talks are settled.
“We had 27 excluded staff doing the supervision of 140 teachers,” said Mike McDiarmid, assistant superintendent for the Bulkley Valley school district. “It wasn’t sustainable.”
McDiarmid said it’s a clear sign that teachers’ relatively limited strike, now the longest in B.C. history, is beginning to strain the school system.
“It’s certainly raising the awareness in the community that there’s a strike going on,” he said. “There are impacts for families.”
Administrators voted to cancel recess at a Nov. 15 board of education meeting.
On Friday, union president Karin Bachman said Bulkley Valley teachers will oppose the plan.
“The teachers are not in favour of recess being cancelled,” she said. “It’s not good for the students or for teachers.”
If the plan does go ahead, morning classes at the nine district schools will start 15 minutes later to make up for missing recess.
Students will still get a lunch break, and non-teaching staff will continue to supervise students as they come and go from school.
The teacher’s strike is also having an impact on report cards.
When students got their first report cards last Friday, most came home blank, with just a bare-bones record of what classes students are taking and how many days they attended.
Public school teachers have warned parents since September that they would not tally up grades for report cards as long as the strikes goes on.
“The fact that they haven’t been writing formal report cards doesn’t impact the students’ learning,” said Karin Bachman. “We’ve been having teachers contact parents already in informal ways.”
Bachman said that teachers will go over students’ performance in person.
“Teachers will definitely give parents a verbal report on how their child’s doing, which actually tells you more than a number on a grid.”
Some students will get a full course grade if they are in classes taught by a school principal.
Non-teaching staff will still supervise students at the beginning and end of the day, when students get on buses and set off for home.
McDiarmid and Bachman both said the contract negotiations are going slowly. The province is holding teachers to a net-zero plan, meaning B.C. teachers will see no increase in wages unless the ministry can make equivalent cuts.
“People are making do, and we all understand these decisions are made somewhere else,” said McDiarmid. “There will probably be more difficult conversations ahead, I would think.”
Bachman said teachers’ decision to start with a limited strike is the only reason both sides are still at the table. In the past, B.C. governments have been quick to legislate fully-striking teachers back to work.
“We don’t want a legislated settlement. We want a negotiated one,” Bachman said. “And negotiations don’t come fast, it seems.”