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Teachers take action

Schools warn students not to loiter at school

Northeastern B.C. school districts are asking parents to not drop off their kids more than 15 minutes before school, and to pick them up quickly, in light of recent job action by teachers.

Other than that, schools will continue to operate mostly the same as they have for parents and students - but that could change.

The BC Teachers Federation is striking over wage concerns. This Stage 1 job action that began on Wednesday means that teachers will still teach classes, but won't do certain other tasks usually within their purview.

For instance, teachers will not arrive before classes start or stay late after the school day is over, meaning they will not be around to supervise children outside of class hours.

"In the interest of safety, non-bus students are asked not to arrive more than 15 minutes before the bell, and are expected to leave the school grounds immediately at afternoon dismissal time," according to a message on School District 59's website. (That district covers the area around Dawson Creek and the South Peace.)

School District 60, which covers the area around Fort St. John and the North Peace, issued a similar warning.

However, School District 81 - which covers Fort Nelson and surrounding area - did not issue this type of warning. SD 81's superintendent, Diane Samchuck, said her district was not asking parents to make changes; instead, she said support staff are taking on more responsibilities before and after school.

"We're not anticipating too much change right now for parents," Samchuck said. "I think that the teachers' union is really trying to not disrupt the students and the parents."

Michele Wiebe, president of the Peace River North Teachers' Association, said that people "won't see a huge impact on student learning" at this point of the strike.

"Parents can still come to see the teacher an hour before school starts," said Wiebe. "Teachers are still going to be available to meet with parents. What we're not going to do is have meetings with [administrators] and parents."

While school changes up north may be minimal, other school districts have seen greater changes so far. Some districts, such as in Prince George, have cancelled recess and shortened school days as a result.

Northeast school districts are not in quite the same situation: recess will continue for these children.

"We're running the same schedule for now," said SD 60 superintendent Dave Sloan. "For now, we're running recess as per regular, with administrators and district staff doing supervision as best we can."

That could change as time goes on, Sloan said. "We think that the benefits of maintaining a consistent schedule (for recess) outweigh the pressures that are put on us," he said. "If it becomes a long-term thing, we will re-evaluate and adjust. I don't want to put our administrators in a position where they're worked to death or not able to do their jobs because they're taking care of other things."

In SD 59's case, other school staff members will be used for playground supervision, according to SD 59 spokeswoman Candace Clouthier, meaning that recess will not be cancelled.

After-school activities planned before the strike action began will still go on in SD 60, according to Sloan. SD 59 and 81 will also continue extracurricular activities during this first stage of the strike.

"After school and voluntary activities that have been scheduled by teachers are being continued at this time," said Peace River South Teachers Association President Lorraine MacKay.

All this could change if the strike escalates. Should the BCTF go into Stage 2, this would mean rotating strikes or one-day walkouts.

Planning for this possibility by the schools could be difficult, however. When asked what they were planning to do in case job action progressed, Clouthier said that "until we know what that might look like, we can't prepare for it."

Sloan said that BCTF will give them advance notice when these rotating strikes are to occur.

Other changes will also go on during the first stage of the strike, but parents may not see them as much. Teachers won't provide or receive printed, written or electronic communication from an administrator, for example.

And while people may not see teachers coming in or staying after classes, Wiebe said it is common for them to do so.

"It is very common for teachers in School District 59 to spend hours before and after school preparing for the school day, and marking or assessing students' work," said MacKay. "Our job action, which restricts when teachers arrive and leave the school building, means that many teachers will be making alternative arrangements to complete these tasks.

"Teachers are very disappointed that we have not been able to reach a negotiated settlement with the government and the employer's association," MacKay went on to say. "Teachers do not take job action lightly, and they hope that this step will prompt the government to come to the table with an offer that will result in a fair deal for teachers and better support for kids."

Many of those in SD 60 are hoping for a resolution. "We're hoping to continue operating the schools as best as we can, and hope for a quick settlement," Sloan added.

"I'm hoping that we can have it all resolved at Stage 1," Wiebe added. "I am an eternal optimist - but you know the saying: hope for the best, expect the worst."

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