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'Retroactive' report cards latest battle ground

James Lehmann makes his way to school in Richmond, March 8, 2012, after teachers returned to the classroom following three days of work action.

John Lehmann/The Globe and Mail/John Lehmann/The Globe and Mail

More sparks flew in B.C.'s education battle Thursday, with the government insisting that teachers would be required to complete report cards that reflect students' performance from the beginning of the year.

Teachers shot back that they would not do "retroactive" report cards.

"We want parents to have report cards which tell them if their kids are in trouble in school – that's the key thing here," Education Minister George Abbott told reporters in Victoria, where the government is debating Bill 22, a contentious new education bill introduced last week.

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"I'm astounded, given that this is supposedly all about the kids, it surprises me that we have a suggestion that report cards won't be filled out. They have to be filled out."

He said Bill 22, once it is passed into law, would require teachers to report on students' performance. To do that, they would have to go back and evaluate what students have been doing since September.

If teachers refuse, the government would seek an order from the Labour Relations Board to have teachers comply, he added.

In a statement, British Columbia Teachers' Federation president Susan Lambert said the minister was "needlessly inflaming" an already tense situation and that report cards would not be filled out retroactively.

"Minister Abbott is ignoring a commonly accepted labour relations principle: struck work is simply not done," she said, adding that the BCTF has repeatedly assured parents and students that grades and marks required for graduation or scholarships will be provided.

The spat came as the B.C. Liberal government cranked up the heat on the New Democrat opposition to speed passage of Bill 22, threatening to recall the legislature during the MLAs' spring break if required.

"I mentioned to the NDP House Leader yesterday we'll have to measure how long this goes and whether we would sit during spring break," Liberal House Leader Rich Coleman told reporters in Victoria.

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NDP MLAs have been speaking against the bill, introduced in February, and on Thursday proposed several amendments.

Mr. Abbott said he would like to see the legislation proclaimed by next Thursday, which is the last scheduled sitting day before the legislature is set to rise. The House would not resume – unless Mr. Coleman changes the schedule – until March 26, opening the door to more sanctioned disruptions in the schools under the present rules set by the LRB.

The contract for B.C.'s 41,000 teachers expired in June, 2011. Teachers launched a limited job action in September by refusing some duties, including filling out report cards, while continuing to teach. A February order from the LRB gave the BCTF permission to escalate its strike action with a three-day walkout in the first week of ramped-up strike action and one day a week after that. Teachers were off the job for three days this week.

The BCTF has put off decisions on further strike activity until its annual meeting, which begins March 17. Some school districts begin a two-week break on Monday, and others have a spring break the following week.

Thousands of people gathered at rallies in Victoria and Vancouver this week to support striking teachers.

On Facebook, a parent complained that a teacher at a Prince George high school had shown a pro-BCTF video to students in class last month.

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Prince George school district superintendent Brian Pepper on Thursday said he had not been made aware of any complaints but that he would look into the matter.

Previously, Mr. Abbott decried letters sent to him from Grade 1 students in Victoria urging him to stop Bill 22. The teacher involved in that incident has acknowledged an error in judgment.

Teachers and the province are at loggerheads over issues including wages as well as class size and composition. The dispute also relates to how the proposed legislation responds to a court judgment last year that found parts of education legislation brought in a decade ago were unconstitutional and gave the government a year, until April, 2012, to fix it.

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About the Authors
National correspondent

Based in Vancouver, Wendy Stueck has covered technology and business and now reports on British Columbia issues including natural resources, aboriginal issues and urban affairs. More

B.C. politics reporter

Based in the press gallery of the B.C. Legislature in Victoria, Justine has followed the ups and downs of B.C. premiers since 1988. She has also worked as a business reporter and on Parliament Hill covering national politics. More

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