Parents should think twice before looking at private schools to avoid labour strife

Christian schools might seem like an attractive option for some parents, as the summer winds down and the province and teachers union remain at an impasse over contract negotiations.

However, officials at some Christian schools in the Peace Region say they're telling strike-weary parents to think twice before trying to enrol their kids at those institutions if the only intention is to avoid the standoff between teachers and the government.

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The strike seems sure to stretch on past Sept. 2, the slated start date for the 2014 school

Of the five Christian schools in the area contacted by the Alaska Highway News, the majority said they would actively discourage parents from enrolling their kids as a way of escaping labour uncertainty in public

Eva Hutchinson, principal of Mountain Christian School in Dawson Creek, said her school has received calls from several dozen parents looking to enrol their children.   

"If they want a Christian education or they want to have their children in an independent school, we're interested," she said. "But if they only want to transfer their children because of the strike situation, we're discouraging it."

Robert Carroll, the principal of Christian Life School in Fort St. John, and Darren Shankel, head of Peace Christian School in Chetwynd, expressed similar concerns in interviews with the Alaska Highway News.

Principal Terri Haynal at Dawson Creek's Notre Dame School went a step further, saying her school didn't want to undercut the teacher's union.

"We have a very strong stance that we're not going to accept children just because there's a strike out there. We're just not going to do that to the public system," she said.

She added: "We need to support [teachers] in some way, even though we're not in the union."

Ron Pettigrew Christian School principal Phyllis Roch said she has also cautioned parents who’ve contacted her about enrolling their children against being short sighted.

"If this is where you want your child, then it should be a consistent thing," she said. "And keep in mind that somewhere along the line, public schools will be back in session."

Teachers walked off the job with two weeks of school to go last June. At issue in the latest labour dispute are wages and class composition. The two parties have been bargaining sporadically over the summer.

Over the course of the strike, the longest by teachers in the province’s history, the BC Teachers Federation has claimed that successive B.C. Liberal governments have been too friendly to private schools.

Around 76,000 students in B.C. attend a private school, according to the B.C. Ministry of Education, compared to 559,000 public school students. B.C.'s private school students account for around 12 per cent of B.C.'s total K-12 population.

According to the BCTF, that number has grown from around 4 per cent in the 1970s.

Tuition at private schools varies. At Mountain Christian, for example, tuition and supplies for the upcoming school year range between $75 and $160 per month, based on the student's grade.

However, that's less than the actual cost of education. Private schools are eligible to have between 35 and 50 per cent of a student's cost of education funded by the province.

Colleen Miller, head of the parent advisory council at Tremblay Elementary in Dawson Creek, said that she’d be surprised not to see an uptick of enrolment at Christian schools, knowing of several parents who have been mulling a switch to a private institution.

"[Parents] are scrambling, and some of them are looking into Christian schools and trying to get [their kids] in there," Miller said, adding that she planned to homeschool her three elementary-aged kids until teachers go back to

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