Endless summer? Teachers back on picket lines and parents left hanging

Penticton resident encouraging parents to join a protest on Tuesday, which was slated to be the first day of school.

Olivia Shrank

Olivia Shrank

With the scheduled start of the new school year just days away, Penticton parent Shaunna Murray should be busy shopping for supplies and clothing, but it’s a task she has now put off indefinitely until teachers put down picket signs.

“Typically (kids) don’t need their supplies for the first week anyway, so I kind of procrastinate, but I don’t see any urgency right now,” said the mother of three children between the ages of eight and 13.

Instead, she’s busying herself organizing a protest on Tuesday at 9 a.m. in the park on Main Street between the public library and Penticton Secondary School. Murray is expecting around 70 people to show up.

Parents are encouraged to attend with their children to ratchet up pressure on teachers and the B.C. government to strike a deal and re-open schools. Similar protests are being staged around the province. Murray said she’s not taking sides in the labour dispute, but rather wants to refocus attention on the kids who are affected by it.

“It’s hard on them,” said Murray (pictured at left with her kids). “They’re just out of sorts.”

Besides the dispute’s impact on kids, she’s also worried about its effects on families who will need to arrange, and pay for, child care during what would normally be class time.

“I’m going to be scrambling,” said Murray, who considers herself lucky since hers is a dual-income family and she can rely on grandparents for some child-minding.

She’s more worried, though, about parents who can’t afford extra child care and won’t be immediately helped by the $40-per-day subsidy for children under 13 since cheques won’t be issued until after the dispute is settled. For those with cash available now, however, there are options.

The city is offering day camps for kids between the ages of six and 12 for the weeks of Sept. 2-5 and Sept. 8-12, and beyond if required. Camps will be run out of the Penticton Community Centre from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. and cost $27 per child per day, with additional care available before and after at $5 per session. Registration is open now and city spokeswoman Simone Blais urged parents to sign up their kids as soon as possible so enough staffing can be secured to meet demand.

“The earlier the better, but we do our absolute best to accommodate everyone who comes through the door,” she said.

Parents must pay for the camps in advance, but will be reimbursed for any sessions that are cancelled when schools reopen. To register, call 250-490-2426 or visit www.penticton.ca/e-reg.

Meanwhile, the Okanagan Boys and Girls Clubs are converting part-time staff to full-time so they too can provide additional programming in communities throughout the region for the duration of the labour disruption, said CEO Diane Entwistle.

“Although we do ask parents to pay for services prior to receiving them, we will work with families who have financial hardship,” she added.

More information is available online at www.boysandgirlsclubs.ca.