Strike threatens start of classes

Just days away from the official start of the new school year, striking Cowichan Valley public school teachers rallied Tuesday afternoon along the Trans Canada Highway near Cowichan Secondary School.

According to Naomi Nilsson, president of the Cowichan District Teachers’ Association, the action was all part of a provincewide move to bring teachers’ issues back into the public eye as the strike, which has been ongoing since June, threatens to postpone the date when kids will be heading back into classrooms.

"This week all of our actions will pressure government to come to the table and get us a deal," Nilsson said.

Teachers are disheartened when they see movement in bargaining by the BC Public School Employers’ Association negotiators negated by provincial government pullbacks, she said.

"Government needs to feel pressure. Cowichan teachers and all BCTF members all over the province need to be more visible. We also need our parents to start writing letters to MLAs because it isn’t just our fight alone. This is a fight for public education for our students," Nilsson said.

Education Minister Peter Fassbender waded into the fray Wednesday with an unsuccessful plea to both sides to suspend strike activity while they enter mediation. He said the province has no plans to legislate teachers back to work.

"We want to be back in the classroom Sept. 2 but what they have on the table right now includes a termination clause that can delete our entire collective agreement based

on whether or not the government likes the [upcoming] Supreme Court ruling," said Nilsson. "No teacher is going to agree to a collective agreement that jettisons [his or her] collective agreement."

The BC Teachers’ Federation has asked that the new contract include past language and ratios on class size limits and composition if the government loses its ongoing appeal.

The government countered by proposing the termination clause, allowing either side to cancel any new contract if they don’t like the court results.

The two sides were meeting with a mediator Thursday.

ALTHOUGH PICKETING has been kickstarted at schools, the CDTA is making a special exception at École Mt. Prevost, to allow the parents there to get a grant-funded project finished on a time schedule "WE’VE BEEN in contact with the CDTA throughout the summer," said Prevost PAC representative Mona Kaiser in an email.

"THEY ARE in support of our project and have rallied behind us to help us finish it within the grant’s timeframe. They will not be picketing where the playground is being built. Our contractor is restricting activity to the Moorefield Road entrance near the field, and our teachers are maintaining their pickets at the two entrances on Somenos Road." THE COWICHAN Valley School District has notified parents by a letter on its website, encouraging them to consult www.sd79.bc.ca and check local media for any changes over the next week.

IF A settlement is not reached, parents are being asked not to send their children to school.