Chilliwack schools not open to students during strike

Chilliwack schools will not be open to students over the duration of next week's three-day teacher strike.

The Minister of Education says schools will be open during the three-day strike next week, but Chilliwack superintendent of schools says they’ll be closed.

Superintendent Michael Audet made the decision to close the schools after speaking to several other nearby school districts.

Because of limited supervision, “it’s just not safe for the kids,” said Audet.

“I’ve been in touch with my colleague superintendents in Fraser Cascade, Mission, Abbotsford, Maple Ridge, and we’re all doing the same thing.”

Audet noted that school facilities would remain open, and they would be staffed with principals and vice principals. As well, all non-teaching staff have been informed those days are regular working days.

However, in a media conference call Thursday, B.C. Education Minister George Abbott repeatedly noted that all schools would be open during the strike.

“Schools will be open Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday,” said Abbott. “Children will be safe and they will be watched over,” but because there will be no instruction for those three days, “where it is possible, we are encouraging parents to find alternate [childcare].”

When asked by The Progress about Chilliwack’s decision to close schools, Abbott curtly responded, “we’ll follow up on that.”

Nearly 28,000 B.C. Teachers’ Federation members voted yes to the strike option out of the 32,209 who voted Tuesday and Wednesday, after the B.C. government tabled legislation to impose a “cooling-off period” for the end of August and impose heavy fines on the union and its members for strikes during that time.

Nearly 9,000 teachers did not vote, and more than 10 per cent or 4,263 voted against strike action.

The B.C. government will be debating legislation, this afternoon, that would extend the current teacher pay and benefits for another six months, while a mediator works with the BCTF and the B.C. Public School Employers’ Association in an effort to find common ground on class sizes, special needs support and other issues.

The strike runs Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday.

The Chilliwack school district has posted a letter to parents on its website informing them of the situation, and will be sending letters home with students today.

~ with  files from Tom Fletcher