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B.C.’s closed schools leave parents stranded

Lord Strathcona School is pictured in Vancouver on Monday. The strike means that children won’t be heading back to school.

Ben Nelms/The Globe and Mail

On a day when they should have been scrambling to pack lunches, meet new teachers and find classes, parents and students in British Columbia will face the first day of school with only one assignment: handling the logistics of an extended summer holiday with no end in sight.

While an indefinite reprieve from homework might make many school-bound students in the rest of the country envious, Sally Lin is angry that she won't be in class.

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

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"I have tried so hard every year and now to think all that work might be blown away, and I can't do anything about it," says the Grade 12 student at Sir Winston Churchill Secondary School, worried that missing too much class time could affect her university applications.

Instead, Ms. Lin will spend Tuesday getting an alternative education in political activism: making posters and checking the sound equipment for a student rally in Vancouver to protest the ongoing teachers' strike, now stretching on since June.

According to Education Minister Peter Fassbender, a $300-million gulf remains between teachers' demands and the government's latest offer. Talks broke down Saturday, with mediator Vince Ready saying he was temporarily withdrawing from the process because the teachers' union and the government were so far apart.

Across the province, the strike has only highlighted the difference between low-income families and professional parents with flexible job schedules, nearby relatives and incomes able to cover high-end camps and tutors. Capitalizing on a province of students with nowhere to go, various camps have extended their programs, including a "horse strike camp" in Langley. Teachers are offering child care and tutoring between time on the picket line. For other families, grandparents and neighbours are pulling babysitter duty – especially for those who can't find child care, a problem at the best of times in cities such as Vancouver.

"Some families are really just having to scramble things together" after hoping the two sides would reach a last-minute settlement, says Victoria mom Mercedes Calvert, whose work as a part-time bookkeeper means she is able to take her two children, 6 and 8, to Science World in Vancouver Tuesday for "a little bit of learning."

For many others, the strike raises worries beyond filling time so the kids don't binge on Netflix all day. Jennifer Jenniss, a single mom in Terrace, B.C., managed to secure a full-day spot at the home daycare her two boys attend in the summer. But her child-care subsidy already only covers about half of her fees, and she's worried about covering the cost until she receives the $40-a-day payments that were promised by the province to offset costs to parents. She is also worried that if the strike drags on, her two sons, who are going into Grade 1 and Grade 5, and have some learning issues, will fall further behind.

"Never mind trying to get a tutor on top of [daycare]," says Ms. Jenniss, who works full-time in accounts payable for a metal salvage company. "That's out of my reach." At the home daycare her boys attend, they will ride their bikes and play video games. "There is not a whole lot of structure where they will learn their ABCs."

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In Vancouver, Kyla Epstein's son, Max, will be looked after by a rotating shift of neighbours in their co-op building where six children altogether will be out of school.

"We're essentially cobbling together a plan with parents in our building." The cost of formal child care – as well as the complication of getting her son there – made that option impossible for Ms. Epstein, a single mother who works for the British Columbia Institute of Technology faculty association. While her neighbours are the best option for now, she says, "I don't want this to be a long-term solution. It's not about finding adequate care. It's about what he's losing."

Kevin Dhir is painfully aware of what he has already lost due to the strike. "As Grade 12s," he says, "we are getting the worse end of this entire thing."

Like many students hoping to boost their grades or cover courses their high-school schedules couldn't accommodate, Mr. Dhir, a classmate with Ms. Lin in the International Baccalaureate program at Sir Winston Churchill, was unable to take an extra math class after summer school was cancelled. Now, prepping for their May IB exams, they have already missed out on important projects and teaching time.

"Each hour in class counts," he says, and the worst is not knowing how many hours will pass before there's a resolution. "That gives me a ton of stress and anxiety. So much stuff is up in the air."

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About the Author

Erin Anderssen writes about mental health, social policy and family issues. More


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