Mason Heintz

Mason Heintz

No teachers, no problem

Group of Penticton parents supervises student camping trip after labour dispute initially prompted school to cancel it

Two years after their kids’ year-end school camping trip was called off due to a teachers’ dispute, some local parents weren’t about to let it happen again.

About 100 students in Grade 8 at KVR Middle School in Penticton were set to leave Wednesday for a two-day trip to Camp Boyle, but the outing was cancelled suddenly when teacher sponsors withdrew their support.

Eight parents then took matters into their own hands and set out Thursday with 36 kids for an overnight stay at the camp 20 kilometres northwest of Summerland.

“This is (the students’) last year at KVR, and they’ve been looking forward to this for three years,” said Sarah Broder, one of the parents who helped reorganize the camp-out. “A lot of these kids have never had an opportunity where they’ve slept in a tent. They’ve never cooked over an open fire. They’ve never done a lot of these things, and it’s wonderful to be able to make it happen.”

Mason Heintz, 13, said he and his classmates were crushed when they learned the school-sponsored excursion had been scuttled.

“I was pretty sad that it wasn’t going on, because in Grade 6 they also do a year-end camping trip and we missed that one because of that (2012 teachers’) strike,” he said.

Broder said parents aren’t assigning blame for this year’s cancellation.

“This is an apolitical event. I’m not bashing anybody over their politics — I just don’t like it when my kids get influenced by politics,” she explained.

Okanagan Skaha School District superintendent Wendy Hyer said the trip is no longer sanctioned by her staff and therefore outside her purview.

“Parents have taken their children out of school for a family camping trip, which is no different if they take them out of school to go to Mexico for a week,” she said in an email.

“These are parental decisions that do not involve the district.”

Leslea Woodward, president of the Okanagan Skaha Teachers’ Union, applauded the KVR parents’ efforts.

“If this is something they’re doing, good, I’m glad,” she said.  “I just hope they understand that it is because we’ve been locked out by the employer that we had to cancel.”

Woodward noted that although the B.C. Public School Employers’ Association has said its partial lockout, which limits the hours educators can work, does not apply to volunteer extra-curricular activities, there is still a grey area around teachers’ liability and medical coverage.

“Legally, a lockout states that we cannot be working during the lockout times that they defined in the letter, and that is our legal advice,” she said.

“That’s why trips are cancelled.”

Meanwhile, the B.C. Teachers’ Federation announced this week it will continue with rotating one-day strikes again next week due to a lack of progress at the bargaining table.

Okanagan Skaha schools will be closed Friday, while those in Okanagan Similkameen will be shut Thursday.

Teachers have been without a contract since June 2013.