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School to hopefully start soon in Bulkley Valley

Bulkley Valley students could be back in classrooms again as soon as Monday, said local union and school board representatives Tuesday
Local union and school board representatives say kids could be returning to classrooms as early as Monday.

Students in the Bulkley Valley could be back in classrooms again as soon as Monday, said local union and school board representatives Tuesday morning.

“We're very excited that there is the potential for this to be settled in a negotiated manner and now we're just eager waiting for that ratification process to go through,” said Chris van der Mark, superintendent for SD54.

The B.C. Teachers' Federation and the provincial government reached a tentative deal around 4 a.m. Tuesday morning after a fourth day of marathon talks at hotel in Richmond, B.C., which began on Saturday.

Details of the agreement have not been released and the union still needs to vote on the deal on Thursday.

Van der Mark said the length of the ratification process which will dictate how soon students can return to B.C. classrooms.

“I would think we're not looking at any later than next Monday . . . Barring a few things here and there, we're largely good to go,” he said adding that the district will be sending out a release to parents once they have more information.

According to van der Mark, if classes resume on Monday, it will be very similar to how the regular school year would have started at the beginning of September.

“The first day is kind of go into school, a half day orientation and getting everything set up. If you're a kindergarden student you're looking at a week of half-days. It's just a delayed start,” he said.

While he didn't have any details on the settlement just yet, van der Mark said that the fact that it was negotiated is encouraging.

Ilona Weiss, president of the Bulkley Valley Teachers' Union, said teachers may need some time to prepare.

“We had our keys taken away in the middle of June so teachers basically just had to leave their classrooms because we were locked out after that,” she said. “So, all of the preparations that teachers normally do in the last few weeks of August hasn't been done. Teachers and schools need a day to fully prepare so we are ready.”

She said the tentative agreement is good news and is sure provisions will be made for teachers to go over the details.

Until they vote on the agreement on Thursday, the picket lines will still be up, added Weiss.

“Teachers are very hopeful that this will be the end. We do have to look at the agreement, but I'm assuming [BCTF President] Jim Iker wouldn't present an agreement that we wouldn't be satisfied with,” said Weiss.

Teachers have been without a contract since June 2013 and launched full-scale job action two weeks before the summer break.

Class size and composition being major issues in the dispute.

“This is exciting to get things potentially going again,” said van der Mark. “[Our teachers] are outstanding and we're looking forward to getting them back where they love to be and that's in classes with kids.”

He said there are roughly 140 teachers in the district and 2,200 kids.

— Marisca Bakker and Kendra Wong