The B.C. teachers strike will continue to have an impact on one group of Ladysmith Primary students even after the dust has settled on the dispute.
Picket lines have disrupted School District 68 plans to erect a portable classroom at Ladysmith Primary School.
“We’ve had pickets at our district office since July 28 and as well at a number of schools for most of the summer, so a lot of the things we would normally do to get ready for school haven’t happened yet,” said school district spokesperson Donna Reimer.
She said one classroom portable won’t be ready when school does reopen and the students will have to be housed elsewhere in the school until the portable can accommodate a class.
“Hopefully when schools do open again and we have our support staff back, we can do that work as quickly as possible,” said Reimer, adding other schools have used the school’s multi-purpose room until the classroom is ready.
She said a number of the district’s projects weren’t able to be completed over the summer as picket lines prevented maintenance staff from accessing the district administration centre.
“We created a priority list of projects and the priority order of them. And definitely I would say Ladysmith is one of our very top ones because our top priority is making sure there’s classrooms for kids when they come back,” said Reimer.
Reimer didn’t want to give a timeline for how long it will take to complete the project because the district is unsure when workers will be available or if another emergency situation might develop at another school.
“But it is really one of our highest priorities,” she said. “It would only be an emergency situation that would divert us from that project.”
Ladysmith Primary won’t be the only area school to see some major changes in the new school year. The School district is anticipating a significant jump in enrolment at Ladysmith Secondary, with 840 students expected when classes resume, up from about 580 last year.
“Davis Road was closed in June so the Grade 7 English students from Davis Road and from Ladysmith Intermediate will be going to Ladysmith Secondary this year,” said Reimer. “As well, Cedar Secondary was closed at the end of June and approximately 200 of those students have opted to go to Ladysmith Secondary so there will be a significant increase.”
Reimer doesn’t expect the strike will impact plans to accommodate the additional students at the school.
“Space won’t be a problem, she said. “The work to house the Grade 7s at the school, while it hasn’t been totally completed, it has been completed enough that the Grade 7s can use the space. There’s not a lot of work left to do.”
Meanwhile, Education Minister Peter Fassbender says the province may take extraordinary steps to ensure senior secondary students’ school year is not cut short by the teachers strike.
That could mean adding days to the school calendar later in the year, he said, to ensure Grade 12 students in particular complete their courses and get all the marks they need.
“Do you put it on the end of the year? Do you take it out of Spring Break? Do you take it out of Christmas holidays? My staff are looking at all of the options,” Fassbender said.
“It’s going to depend on how long this drags out. Whatever length of time it takes to get this settled, we will do everything we can to make sure the school year is kept whole for those students.”
It’s unclear how the government would finance adding extra days of classes later when all of the $12 million per day in strike savings may be consumed by the province’s offer of $40-a-day payments to parents.
But the possibility of an extended school year is not happening, according to Mike Ball, president of the Nanaimo and District Teachers’ Association.
“That’s something that would have to be negotiated,” said Ball. “Do they want me to work for free? I don’t see it happening to be honest.”
He said ministry guidelines show you can lose about six weeks of the school year and still deliver the full curriculum.
“You can lose a certain amount every year without affecting curriculum that you deliver, you just don’t get all the frills and extras you’d like to have,” said Ball.
Reimer said extending the school year is not something the district has looked at and a lot would depend on how long the strike lasts, and expects the ministry would have to make provisions for school districts.
“If there’s additional costs involved, we obviously wouldn’t have the budget for it so we would expect that they would also somehow support us in the costs,” she said.
For his part, Ball doesn’t think the dispute will last long enough to make a longer school year necessary.
“I don’t see us being out for six weeks. The government has to come to its senses at some point,” he said. “We’ve said we’re still prepared to make some moves but it has to come from both sides. Right now every move that’s been made has been made by the BCTF.”
— with files from Jeff Nagel