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UPDATE: Thursday could be last day of school for Chilliwack students as B.C. teachers issue strike notice

Today (Thursday) could very well be the last day of school for students in Chilliwack. - JENNA HAUCK/ PROGRESS
Today (Thursday) could very well be the last day of school for students in Chilliwack.
— image credit: JENNA HAUCK/ PROGRESS

Chilliwack students learned Thursday morning that it would likely be their last day of school for the year.

The BC Teachers Federation has served 72-hour strike notice, setting the stage for a total walkout next week.

BCTF president Jim Iker said escalated job action would begin with a study session Monday, followed by a full strike starting Tuesday, if necessary.

The Monday study sessions will see BCTF members meet off-site – schools won't be picketed, but teachers won't be there.

And because Friday is rotating strike day for Chilliwack, that means, Thursday could have very well been the last day of school.

"We hope escalation can actually be avoided," Iker said Thursday. "My message to Christy Clark is come to the table with new funding, an open mind and the flexibility needed to reach a fair settlement."

A full strike would close elementary and middle schools – parents will be advised to make child care arrangements if necessary – while secondary schools would be open only to conduct exams for Grade 10 to 12 students.

The Labour Relations Board made Grade 10 to 12 exams an essential service.

"That means students in grades 10 to 12 will be able to write their exams as scheduled and Grade 12 students will receive their final marks in a timely manner," said Education Minister Peter Fassbender.

Chilliwack parents are concerned.

On Wednesday morning, following BCTF's 86 per cent favourable vote for a full-scale strike, several parents outside Bernard elementary were discussing their options.

"It's going to be a tight squeeze for us," said Shilo Orellana, who has two primary aged children at Bernard.

Orellana recently started a new job; she works for minimum wage. Paying for the additional child care time won't be easy.

"Basically our daycare provider makes the same amount that I do," she said.

Still, she supports teachers.

"They have a very hard job and I think they're under appreciated," she said.

Parent Michelle Horsley, who has a child in Grade 1 at Bernard and another in Grade 11 at Chilliwack secondary wishes information would be more forthcoming.

"The lack of information is so hard," she said

Job action isn't new for Horsley; she went through it in 2012 when her older son was in Grade 12.

"It seems like there's less information this time," she said. "I don't know what's going on. I don't know what's happening."

Chilliwack school district has been fairly tight lipped about job action. Repeated questions by The Progress went unanswered this week, claiming the district was too busy to respond.

When school district superintendent Evelyn Novak was asked Wednesday about the district's plan for school-site daycares during strike action, she said, "We'll cross that bridge and make that decision based on the information that's provided to us."

A letter to parents that was posted to the school district's website late Thursday morning, however, says the Chilliwack Board of Education approved, on Tuesday, to provide daycares and preschools the choice to remain open on days of teacher strike action.

(Chilliwack school district did not allow them to stay open during rotating strike action, despite the Chilliwack Teachers' Union agreeing not to picket them. The district cited cleanliness concerns, due to CUPE staff not crossing picket lines, as their reasons for closing the sites.)

According to the online letter, the school district is canceling all other non-school district activities, including StrongStart Centres, Community Schools, Neighbourhood Learning Centres and facility rentals during strike action.

There was no information provided about the school district's plans for Fraser Valley Distance Education or summer school.

The province has pledged to end its partial lockout of teachers at the end of the school year to enable summer school operations, but it's not clear whether summer school would happen under a full strike.

"That's what we have not been informed of fully, whether or not the strike would continue to stop summer school, or whether it would cease and shift a decision that's not been given out to us yet," said Chilliwack Teachers' Association president Clint Johnston.

"At this point there's been no final decision made on summer school. It depends on the course of bargaining over the weekend and whether a deal is achieved or not."

The issuance of strike notice followed an 86 per cent strike vote Monday and Tuesday with a record turnout of more than 33,000 BCTF members.

An email to teachers advised them to take personal possessions with them in case schools don't reopen before summer.

The province has offered a $1,200 signing bonus if teachers accept its proposal of 7.25 per cent in wage increases over six years by June 30.

The BCTF's latest proposal is for increases totaling 9.75 per cent over four years, plus partial cost-of-living adjustments in each year tied to inflation.

The two sides have differing estimates of the compounded grand total of the union's wage demand – the BCTF estimates it at 12.75 per cent over four years, while BCPSEA pegs it at 14.7 per cent and says other non-wage compensation costs will further increase the bill, perhaps beyond 19 per cent.

~ with files from Jeff Nagel

kbartel@theprogress.com

twitter.com/schoolscribe33

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