Trent Ernst, Editor
Allison Frenette is a grade 12 student, formerly from Tumbler Ridge.
With no end in sight for the teacher’s strike, she decided to go to Alberta for school. “The teacher’s strike is now cutting into the school year,” says Frenette. “Since it’s my last year I can’t miss any of it.”
So, at the end of August, Frenette packed up her bags and took off for Cold Lake Alberta, to live with her aunt and uncle.
It’s a bit of a shock for the small-town student. “The school here is huge. There are, like, 600 students,” she says. “But the teachers are super nice, and the people are friendly aside from not having anyone to sit with at lunch. I’m sure I will find some people soon enough.”
Frenette says that’s the big thing about changing school for grade 12: not knowing anyone. “The thing I miss already about TRSS is my friends, for sure,” she says.
Mom Stephanie says this was a one-way trip for her daughter. “I told her the day she left, ‘even if the strike settles tomorrow, you’re there for the year.’
“I support the teachers, I do, but on the flip side, with Allison going into grade 12…she’s a grade A student, and I wasn’t sure how long it would be. I’m like, ‘go teachers, but go to Alberta, Allison.’”
Stephanie says if a grade 12 student misses more than six weeks of school, they will have to make it up in summer or the next year. “If that happened, she would miss the deadlines for college and have to sit around a year waiting, and she has her future planned out.”
Her plans include going to school to get her Bachelor’s of Science as a dental hygienist. Mom says that was another issue moving to Cold Lake. “She had just started working for Dr Chang,” says Stephanie, “so she had to give that up.”
Stephanie says while Allison is settling into her new school, it has been a bit of shock. “After about a week there, the emotion set in. She realized that she wasn’t going to graduate with her friends in TR, and that hit her hard.”
But the positives are starting to add up. “She just landed a major part with the Drama club there, so she’s really excited,” says Mom. “She’s making friends, she likes that. And there’s a dance academy there, so she’s finally back into that and loving it.”
It looks like sending her to Alberta was the right call. The first two weeks of school have come and gone, and, while the teachers are calling for binding arbitration, with 99.4 percent of teachers voting in favour of, the government has, as of yet, refused to accept this offer.
“Binding arbitration is not in the cards in this dispute, period,” says Education Minister Peter Fassbender, pointing out that binding arbitration has cost the government in the past.
“After due diligence and further investigation, it became very clear that it was another empty effort to give parents and teachers a false hope that there is a simple way to resolve the dispute. At a meeting yesterday, the BCTF made it clear that they would insist on several preconditions—preconditions that would effectively tilt the entire process in the BCTF’s favour.”
These preconditions include: the BCPSEA withdrawing proposal E80, and “Items currently before the Court of Appeal and/or those items related to class size, class composition and staffing ratios are removed from the bargaining table and remain before the courts.”
Proposal E80 states that the BC Public School Employer’s Association “does not agree with the BCTF’s assertion that a judicial decision can or will determine the content of the new collective agreement with respect to [class size, class composition and specialist teacher staffing ratios].”
The BCTF says the government “wants a court escape clause by having E80 over-ride any court win.”
On Wednesday of last week, an overwhelming majority of teacher’s voted to go back to work if government agrees to binding arbitration. Still, the government refuses to agree to this, saying that the BCTF is asking for too much. “They need to get in the affordability zone on wages and benefits so we can get to work on negotiating class size and composition—which both sides agree is the most important issue,” says Fassbender.
Also on Wednesday, the BC Federation of Labour (BCFL) announced $8-million in interest free loans. “Strikes are tough on everyone,” says Jim Sinclair, president of the BCFL. “Teachers are giving up their paycheques to defend their rights and demand a high quality public education system for our children. This support will help ensure the government cannot teachers’ rights through financial hardship.
The money is a joint contribution from a variety of unions, including the BC Government and Service Employees’ Union, the Hospital Employees’ Union, United Steelworkers, Canadian Office and Professional Employees’ Union 378, Public Service Alliance of Canada, Federation of Post Secondary Educators, Health Sciences Association, International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers and Unifor.
Back in Cold Lake, Frenette says that because she is in a new environment, the bar has been set higher. “The thing I like best about this school is knowing I’m going to have to push myself,” she says.
And what are the differences between Cold Lake and Tumbler Ridge? Is there anything she can do in Alberta that she couldn’t do here in Tumbler Ridge?
“Yeah,” she says. “Go to school.”