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B.C. students lose faith in teachers’ union, government

Teachers continue their strike outside Burnaby North Secondary School in Burnaby Monday, August 25, 2014.

Rafal Gerszak/The Globe and Mail

Many students say support for the B.C. teachers' union and the province's ruling Liberals is fading as picket lines have reappeared in the final week before classes are scheduled to start and neither side has found a way to end the six-month labour dispute.

After a summer when students were given little information as to whether schools would open their doors again on Sept. 2, incoming Grade 12 student Jing Wang says the sense of worry among her peers has given way to "frustration and anger."

In mid-June the province's teachers went on a full-scale strike as part of a dispute on pay and class size in the province. The move followed months of mounting tensions and rhetoric during which a lockout was imposed by the province and educators engaged in increasing job actions.

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(Read up on the issues and history of the education labour dispute with our explainer Q&A.)

With the cancellation of summer school and distance education offerings, student Cole Poirier says he's felt as though students have been "held hostage" as negotiators from both sides have claimed that they are representing the best interest of students.

"I don't think it's right to suspend our education for a labour dispute," said Mr. Poirer, a student at Sir Winston Churchill Secondary School in the southern end of Vancouver.

Several kilometres away, Ms. Wang says she and her friends are clamouring to start their final year at Prince of Wales Secondary School in Vancouver's west side. She is set to become the Vancouver School Board's student trustee once classes start.

While Ms. Wang says many students supported the goals of the B.C. Teachers' Federation when the union started job action in the early spring, she says that support has evaporated among her peers.

"The teachers were fighting for smaller class sizes and other issues students could get behind. Now it's all about money, and the government doesn't have any. I don't feel like I'm on either side any more. Now we need to fight for ourselves," she said.

While both she and Mr. Poirier say they continue to support their teachers, they both say they've lost confidence in the negotiators on either side. Both question the decision to suspend negotiations during the summer. The BCTF and government negotiators met only twice: once in early July and again in August.

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With the slow escalation in pressure tactics by teachers and government over the past year, students across B.C. have already felt an impact on their studies.

Looking to finish two physics prerequisites he will need for engineering school, Mr. Poirier received a textbook for a distance education class before the program was suspended.

Many teachers had a limited the amount of time to prepare for the truncated school year.

In Mr. Poirier's biology classes, lessons ended just as students were being introduced to invertebrates. His history class ended abruptly during the period of the British Mandate as students learned about the Jewish-Arab conflict. In a philosophy class, only half of the students were able to deliver presentations.

Adding to the worry for senior students are pending university applications, many of which will be in the mail as of October.

Representatives from the University of British Columbia and Simon Fraser University say that they are still expecting "business as usual" with this year's high school seniors. However if classes do not start "in a timely fashion" and students are missing grades, UBC associate registrar Andrew Ariba says universities will accommodate next year's crop of students.

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Speaking to a BCTF conference in Kamloops on Sunday, union president Jim Iker said the government was the "holdout" for negotiations and challenged B.C.'s Education Minister to resume negotiations the next day. As of Monday afternoon the challenge was not met, according to union officials.

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About the Author
Ontario legislative reporter

Based in Toronto, Justin Giovannetti is The Globe and Mail’s Ontario legislative reporter. He previously worked out of the newspaper’s Edmonton, Toronto and B.C. bureaus. He is a graduate of Montreal’s Concordia University and has also worked for CTV in Quebec. More

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