Cowichan teachers to vote on ending strike Thursday

Cowichan Valley teachers are joining colleagues around the province in voting on Thursday on a tentative six-year deal to end their months-long strike.

Full details of the agreement reached between the BC Teachers’ Federation and the BC Public School Employers’ Association were not available at press time but there was plenty of excitement just the same, according to a local teachers’ rep.

Chris Rolls, vice-president of the Cowichan Valley Teachers’ Federation and president of the Lake Cowichan Teachers’ Association, said Tuesday that she received email notification of the prospective deal at 4:30 a.m. that morning.

"We can’t wait to get back in school. It was exciting that the media blackout [during negotiations] actually got to happen on all sides and they got to be left alone to get this done," she said.

Rolls said she was waiting with everyone else to hear the all the details before sharing anything with her members before their vote.

"My members have always had the faith in our bargaining team and that they knew what members felt: that all we wanted was to get back to work," she said.

Now, there is the job of preparing classrooms.

"There’s a lot of work that has to go in, especially in primary classrooms. It’s not just a matter of having desks and chairs."

In addition, cleaning and maintenance at some Valley schools has been on hold during the strike.

"We don’t know what we’re walking into which sort of complicates things. But I do have great faith that teachers are going to get things done as fast as they can. We’re going to ask for patience on the behalf of kids and parents with that," Rolls said.

Caroline Kirman, president of the Cowichan Valley District Parent Advisory Council, said that parent groups have not been able to communicate well during the summer, so she wasn’t speaking for them, but, as a parent, shared that she was "delighted" at a possible end to the strike and "to see students back in a learning environment and one that is free from any dispute."

She agreed with Rolls that some accommodations will have to be made as schools ease into high gear.

"I hope that everyone will be mindful of that; it’s going to be difficult

for teachers who’ve not had access to their classrooms. Also CUPE and USW workers have not been able to do all of their work over the summer. That’s actually a concern to me as a parent because of the repairs that haven’t been able to be done.

"But, one of the things that as a parent I’m most concerned about is the loss of learning, that students have lost three weeks of this academic year. How can they make that up? Will the government or our board of education be amending the school calendar to claw back some of the lost time?" She will wait to hear more, possibly from the Cowichan Valley’s trustee at tonight’s school board meeting.

An exultant Premier Christy Clark praised all sides when she spoke to the media Tuesday afternoon.

"We have reached an historic six-year agreement. That means we have five years of labour peace ahead of us."

Clark said she thought reaching a settlement through negotiation was "really important" and called it "a remarkable achievement" after "years of dysfunction".

Around the province, trustees were exulting, too.

"This is wonderful news for the students, teachers, administrators, support staff, trustees and parents in B.C.," said Teresa Rezansoff, president of the BC School Trustees Association. "The immediate goal is to get students back in classes as quickly as possible. We must then focus on the critical work of strengthening our public education system and rebuilding trust."

BCSTA had two representatives at the bargaining table.

Right now, teachers are preparing for their Labour Relations Board-sanctioned vote.

"I’m guessing the results would be released Thursday night but I don’t know for sure," Rolls said.

Check updates on the situation.

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