Teachers withdraw from extracurricular activities

Okanagan Skaha teachers cancel voluntary activities in response to Bill 22

With the passage of Bill 22 looming, teachers in the Okanagan Skaha School District are switching tactics.

Bill 22 puts an end to both the teachers’ ability to go out on strike and continue their limited job action, which has seen them refusing to do any administrative duties, including issuing report cards since September. With those limits, teachers in several districts have decided to stop doing any voluntary extracurricular activities.

“It’s heart-wrenching for teachers to do this, but the reality is that this is the only action under Bill 22 that is available to teachers,” said Kevin Epp of the Okanagan Skaha Teachers’ Union. “We can’t strike or withdraw services because of Bill 22. Any strike action under Bill 22 is subject to enormous fines.”

The decision was made on March 2, at a special general meeting on the first day of the teachers’ three-day strike. Epp points out that while they were doing their job action and even during the strike, the teachers continued to coach and otherwise support student activities outside the classroom.

“I don’t know any other situation where there was a labour dispute and people continued to volunteer, but we did,” said Epp. “While many members were out walking on the demonstration line, some volunteers were driving their team to other parts of the province to participate in a tournament to finish up their season.”

According to Epp, teachers normally put in thousands of hours working with students on extracurricular activities outside their teaching duties.

“The first thing that pops into most people’s minds when they hear extracurricular is sports, but it also includes things like clubs, drama productions, music performances, field trips and extra meetings outside of the normal meetings that are part of one’s duties and many other things that teachers do that are voluntary,” said Epp.

Epp expects that major planned trips, like one to Peru that Penticton Secondary students have been fundraising for, will go ahead. According to Epp, some teachers are choosing to stop their volunteering now, while some will finish what they have started and many will not start anything new.

“There wasn’t an intention in this decision that teachers would instantly cancel those,” he said. “It would be too much of an inconvenience for folks; it would also be a huge financial loss to the folks that had paid for those things and now couldn’t attend.”

The decision will be reviewed at a future OSTU general meeting, but Epp warns that the refusal to volunteer could continue into the next school year. Local unions in at least nine other districts — Kamloops Thompson, Sooke, Maple Ridge Pitt Meadows, Prince George, Peace River South, Creston, West Vancouver, Sea to Sky and Vernon — have chosen to take the same action.

“We realize extracurricular activities are an important part of any student’s school experience, but for us there is an even greater principle: fairness,” said Epp. “Bill 22 strips teachers of due process, free collective bargaining, professional autonomy, ignores the government’s illegal stripping of our collective agreement and it will allow more large classes with less time for all students including those with special needs. In short, it is a disaster for education in B.C.”

B.C. Liberal house leader Rich Coleman moved to end debate on Bill 22 Monday afternoon, and the government majority voted to pass his motion. Coleman said the measure will ensure that Bill 22 will be passed into law by Thursday, ensuring that schools will return to normal operation after spring break.