Teacher dispute leaves parents, students worried about the finish

Graduation ceremonies still expected to proceed locally, although in a scaled-back format with more outside help

In the wake of one-day strikes and with less than a month left in the school year, some parents are worried about how it will end for the most senior students.

“The biggest and strongest concern that I’m hearing currently is: What about grad?” said Derek Hurst, president of the Okanagan Skaha district parent advisory council.

Graduation ceremonies are among the extra-curricular activities currently in limbo due to the partial lockout of teachers by the B.C. Public School Employers’ Association.

Under terms of the lockout, teachers have been ordered to show up for work no more than 45 minutes before class begins, and to leave school property within 45 minutes of the final bell. High school teachers will then be fully locked out June 25 and 26, while all teachers will be off the job June 27.

That throws a wrench into plans for graduation ceremonies here, but administrators are working to ensure the shows go on, said Okanagan Skaha superintendent Wendy Hyer.

“At the moment, in speaking with all of the high school principals, grad ceremonies will continue,” she said Tuesday. “They may look different, but they’ll continue.”

The ceremonies begin locally with Penticton Secondary on June 13, followed by Princess Margaret on June 26 and Summerland Secondary on June 27. Hyer said the events will likely be scaled-down affairs that rely on help from parents and administrators from other schools; Summerland’s ceremony has already been bumped from the morning to late afternoon to make it easier for volunteers to attend. Some other school events have, however, been cancelled outright by teachers.

Hyer said a handful of elementary schools’ swimming programs were scuttled this week, as was a middle school’s year-end camping trip, even though the lockout is not meant to not apply to extra-curricular activities.

But the president of the Okanagan Skaha Teachers’ Union said members are concerned about liability and health insurance coverage while engaged in extra-curricular activities outside regular school hours.

“Our legal advice is that we follow that lockout until we hear differently,” explained Leslea Woodward.

She said teachers’ continued involvement in volunteer activities and the possibility or further strikes will depend on what happens this week during contract talks and at a hearing with the Labour Relations Board in regard to a 10 per cent wage cut intended to reflect their reduced duties during job action.

“We’re taking it day by day,” Woodward said.

“If (teachers) are going to be expected to do all of their jobs and be locked out and have their pay cut by 10 per cent, they’re not going to be feeling too happy about it.”

Teachers have been without a contract since June 2013.

According to BCPSEA, its last offer was a six-year deal with a 7.3 per cent wage increase, while the counterproposal was a four-year agreement with a 16 per cent pay hike.