Update: Students walk out with threat of full-scale strike looming

Sparse local participation in protest ahead of teachers' vote next week on escalation to total withdrawal of service

Some of the nearly two-dozen students who left class Wednesday morning sit in front of the Eckhardt Avenue entrance of Penticton Secondary School. Although some of those who walked out did so in suppor of the teachers

Some of the nearly two-dozen students who left class Wednesday morning sit in front of the Eckhardt Avenue entrance of Penticton Secondary School. Although some of those who walked out did so in suppor of the teachers

With the threat of a full-scale teachers’ strike looming, just 48 local kids were estimated to have participated Wednesday in a B.C.-wide student walkout, according to numbers provided by the Okanagan Skaha School District.

Half the local activists gathered along the wall at the main entrance to Penticton Secondary School to protest against the ongoing labour dispute and its spillover effects on students.

Grade 10 student Megan Penner took part because she feels like a pawn in the battle at the bargaining table.

“I’m out here because I’m tired of the government and the teachers putting us in the middle of their disputes … kind of like parents getting divorced, putting their children in the middle of it,” she said.

Christina Cerny, a Grade 11 exchange student from Austria, said two weeks of rotating strikes and cancellation of some extra-curricular activities have lessened her experience in Canada.

“I came here to notice how the school life is and everything, and because of the lockout they cancelled our trips. Like we wanted to go camping, there was a fashion show planned, and we wanted to go bowling, and they just skipped everything because of the lockout,” she said.

Lexie Lidstone joined the protest because she fears funding cuts to the B.C. education system will imperil non-academic courses.

“I love my music classes, and if they cut them, I have no idea what I’m supposed to do with that, because I’m not interested in any of the other electives,” the Grade 10 student explained.

Okanagan Skaha School District superintendent Wendy Hyer said via email that staff reported walkouts at five local schools, despite encouraging kids to stay in class and warning parents that the unsupervised protests raised safety issues.

“We all fully respect the voice of students and their legitimate right to share their concerns, and we do not want to unduly alarm parents or students about the potential risks of participating in the walkout,” Hyer said. “But it is our shared responsibility to ensure parents and students are aware of those risks.”

Meanwhile, the B.C. Teachers’ Federation has announced it would continue with rotating strikes next week that will see schools closed in Okanagan Skaha on Wednesday and Okanagan Similkameen on Friday.

Teachers will also vote next week on a plan to proceed to a full-scale strike that could take effect within two weeks, although B.C. Education Minister Peter Fassbender told reporters that, if necessary, school administrators would distribute and mark final exams for Grade 12 students.

The proposed escalation is a response to a Labour Relations Board ruling that approved the B.C. government’s 10 per cent cut to teachers’ wages, meant to reflect reduced workload as a result of job action and a partial lockout.

Teachers have been without a contract since June 2013.

*****

Posted: June 4, 2014

Local participation Wednesday in a B.C.-wide student walkout appeared limited to about two-dozen kids in Penticton.

The young activists, most of whom held hand-made signs, gathered at 10 a.m. along the wall at the main entrance to Penticton Secondary School.

There didn’t appear to be walkouts at any other local schools, although 13,800 people registered their intention on a Facebook page to participate in the wider protest against the ongoing teachers’ dispute and its spillover effects on students.

Megan Penner said she skipped her morning gym class at Penticton Secondary in order to take a stand.

“I’m out here because I’m tired of the government and the teachers putting us in the middle of their disputes… kind of like parents getting divorced, putting their children in the middle of it,” said the Grade 10 student.

Penner sensed apathy among most local students, who didn’t feel the walkout would accomplish anything.

“I’ve heard a few kids say that the teachers and the school board think that no matter what we do, it’s not going to change anything, it’s not going to make a difference, but I believe if enough kids did it we could make a difference,” she said.

Christina Cerny, a Grade 11 exchange student from Austria, said the teachers’ dispute, which has resulted in two weeks’ of rotating strikes and cancellation of some extra-curricular activities, has been particularly tough on visitors.

“I came here to notice how the school life is and everything, and because of the lockout they cancelled our trips. Like we wanted to go camping, there was a fashion show planned, and we wanted to go bowling, and they just skipped everything because of the lockout,” she said.

“That’s just really sad for me (because) I don’t go on trips or make experiences, and I think that’s just not fair.”

Lexie Lidstone said she decided to speak up because she fears funding cuts to the B.C. education system will imperil non-academic classes.

“I love my music classes, and if they cut them, I have no idea what I’m supposed to do with that, because I’m not interested in any of the other electives, so I’m walking out to show that I’m tired of being in the middle of this,” the Grade 10 student explained.

“That’s why we’re doing this: Because it’s one of the only things we can think of to actually do to get a message across.”

Okanagan Skaha School District superintendent Wendy Hyer could be immediately reached for comment Wednesday morning.

Schools in the district will be behind teachers’ picket lines again on Friday.

With files from Mark Brett

 

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