Worrying about the future is standard for any kid entering Grade 12, but Penticton student Matthew Koster and his peers have extra cause for concern this year.
“I want to get back to class so I can graduate properly, on time, and get into a university,” said the 16-year-old, who was among 70 parents and students who protested near Penticton Secondary School on Tuesday on what should have been the first day of class.
Koster, who’s considering a career in engineering, said the teachers’ dispute that’s closed public schools in B.C. will hurt his chances of getting into a post-secondary program next fall.
“It means I’m not as far along in my courses as another student from a different province, so I have a hindered chance at scholarships and universities,” he explained.
His mother, Susan, also attended the protest and pointed out that if schools stay closed for September, that means a quarter of the first semester will be lost.
“It’s first semester grades that go to the universities,” she noted.
“He’s worked hard all the way through high school to get where he is, and now he has no control.”
Shaunna Murray, who organized Tuesday’s protest, said it’s students like Koster to whom she was trying to draw attention with the event.
“It’s not about choosing sides. It’s about getting these kids back in school in a proper education system. That’s what we’re all here for,” she said.
Murray was “super-pleased” with the turnout, and is exploring ways to bring together local parent advisory committees to present a united front to help urge teachers and the B.C. government to strike a deal.
Leslea Woodward, president of the Okanagan Skaha Teachers’ Union, was happy to learn about the protest.
“I think they should be advocating for public education for the kids. It needs to start coming from parents,” she said.
Woodward noted teachers — who she explained are locked out rather than on strike — remain “strong and resolved.”
“There are people that are hurting for money, but they know that what we’re doing is right,” she said.
“This isn’t just about wages…. It’s about conditions in the classrooms and the supports that are needed to be there.”
Woodward said no talks are scheduled between the B.C. Teachers’ Federation and the B.C. Public School Employers’ Association, but leaders for both groups remain in contact with each other and mediator Vince Ready.
The superintindent of the Okanagan Skaha School District is eager to see the two sides resume talks.
“This is an extremely frustrating time for all partner groups and it is our hope that this labour impasse is resolved quickly at the bargaining table so school can resume,” Wendy Hyer said via email.
She added that parents who qualify for the B.C government’s $40-a-day temporary subsidy can find their child’s personal education number on a report card, and that daycares operating at schools behind picket lines should be contacted directly with any inquiries.
Hyer encouraged parents to regularly check local media and the school district’s website for updates.