Whatever day teachers back to work, students will start one day later

The possible strike spilling throwing a wrench into the School District (SD68)’s preparations for the start of the school year.

The possibility of the B.C. teachers’ strike spilling into the scheduled first week of school is throwing a wrench into the Nanaimo-Ladysmith School District (SD68)’s preparations for the start of the school year.

Donna Reimer, school district spokeswoman, said school is scheduled to start Wednesday, Sept. 3 but whether classes commence is absolutely dependent on what takes place at the bargaining table. The school district is ultimately hoping for a resolution but the uncertainty is making it difficult to make contingency plans and get ready for 2014-15, she said.

“The biggest problem that we foresee is [this] week is the week that we take new registrations and the week that parents let us know if they aren’t coming back to their school … so for schools to know exactly which kids they have, which ones are coming, what the new ones are, how much space they have, if schools are behind picket lines next week, then our start-up will be a bit more difficult,” Reimer said on Aug. 28.

Rather than having parents heading to schools to register, crossing picket lines in the process, Reimer said the school district is recommending they call the school and talk to the principal.

She said the school district board office has been behind picket lines since July 20 and, as a result, maintenance work on district schools has not been completed, as related staff don’t wish to cross lines.

“We have stopped watering our fields and they haven’t been maintained, so the fields might not be in the shape we’d like them to be, schools may not have all the updating projects that we would’ve liked to have done in the summer,” she said.

In a letter to parents and students, SD68 superintendent Dave Hutchinson stated that whatever happens at the bargaining table, students will not attend on the first day that teachers and support staff are back in school.

Students will attend on the second day that teachers and support staff are back in school, using the schedule that was previously planned for Wednesday, Sept. 3.

Hutchinson warned that there may be extenuating circumstances at some schools, which will mean a change in the planned schedule.

Hutchinson encourages parents and students to keep visiting www.sd68.bc.ca for updates.

“We face a unique situation in our school district, because there have been pickets at our District Office and many schools for most of the summer,” Hutchinson states in his letter. “Support staff have not been able to report for work and we have not been able to carry out the many tasks that are essential for a safe and orderly start-up of schools. For that reason, we will use the first day that teachers and support staff are back at work to plan and organize school opening. Please note that these plans could change if there is a different schedule set through bargaining or province-wide by the Ministry of Education.”

Mike Ball, president of the Nanaimo District Teachers’ Association, estimated a soft deadline of Aug. 29 as a timeframe a deal would have to be reached by in order to avoid a delay to the start of the school year.

In School District 79 (Cowichan Valley), superintendent Joe Rhodes has sent a letter to parents stating that if a settlement is reached, the expectation is that all public schools in the Cowichan Valley School District will be open Tuesday, Sept. 2.

“If a settlement is not reached, the school district could be behind picket lines and no regular instruction would be available,” he wrote. “If this is the case, I would ask that parents not send their children to school and encourage parents to make alternate childcare arrangements as needed.”

Like Hutchinson, Rhodes advises parents to consult the district’s website, which is www.sd79.bc.ca.

As of our early press time on Friday, Aug. 29, we know that mediator Vince Ready was to meet with the full bargaining committees for the  BC Teachers’ Federation (BCTF) and the BC Public School Employers’ Association (BCPSEA) on Friday.

— with files from Lindsay Chung