The following letter was sent to the Roundtable reps and raises several critical issues regarding the crisis in education that has existed long before October 7th, 2005.

Dear Education Roundtable representatives,

In 1999, the province commissioned an independent Review of Special Education in reaction to widespread concerns that special education was in crisis at that time. That review received numerous submissions, including one from BCCPAC that highlighted provincial underfunding of special ed and the threat this posed to inclusive education, with local school boards and their staff ill-equipped and failing to live up to provincial special education policies. In 2001, the report of this Review was almost entirely ignored by the incoming government, which instituted far reaching changes, including funding policies that forced deep cuts at the local level, greatly aggravating the existing challenges in special education. As the BC Association for Community Living (BCACL) memo copied below illustrates, those changes have taken things from bad to worse, threatening inclusion and posing a very real crisis for children with developmental disabilities and other special needs.

Successive NPA and COPE School Boards in Vancouver have repeatedly documented how this funding gap forces them to divert millions intended for general education, thus hurting all students. The BCTF has consistently highlighted this concern, making it a focal point of the recent job action. And while BCCPAC has been less vocal in recent years, its members have continued to pass numerous resolutions expressing concern about underfunding of special education and other special learning needs. In 2004, even MLAs representing the current government urged their leaders to restore funding for special education in the report of their budget review committee. That the crisis identified by special education advocates in the late 1990s has deepened, becoming chronic and systemic and ever more daunting does not make it any less a crisis!

Regrettably, the Minister has seen fit to selectively represent the provincial parent voice at the new roundtable, and to exclude any voices that can speak purely for students with special learning needs at a table where this is clearly a central issue. This places an added responsibility on those appointed to the roundtable to represent all students in our education system, regardless of your organizational goals and policies or member priorities. You have been given an opportunity to stop the appalling betrayal of our most vulnerable students by acknowledging and addressing the central and undeniable role of consistent provincial underfunding in the crisis that faces so many of our students with special learning needs, including ESL and Aboriginal students and other children with unique needs today. As the parent of a child with special needs and advocate who has accompanied many other parents through their own children’s individual school crises, I urge that you seek outside support and input if necessary to accomplish this, so that we can address this crisis promptly and restore the promise of inclusive education once and for all.

Dawn Steele

Parent of a child with special needs, David Livingstone Elementary (a non-BCCPAC member), Vancouver.

CC: Vancouver DPAC; SOS; BCSPE; BCACL; Opposition Education Critic John Horgan;

UBC Faculty Association Sends $5000.00 to the Feed the Teacher Fund

UBC faculty from UBC-Vancouver and UBC-Okanagan, meeting via video link passed overwhelmingly passed a motion to contribute $5000.00 to the Federation of Post-Secondary Educators Feed the Teachers Fund. Moved by Stephen Petrina and seconded by Charles Menzies the motion recognized the important work that BC teachers have been doing in standing up to an intransigent government.

A member from UBC-O, speaking in favour of the motion, reminded us that in Kelowna they understand what it is like to be on strike and “this motion is the least that we can do.” Others speaking in favour of the motion made reference to the important human rights issues involved.

One member who spoke against the motion raised the issue of ‘fiscal responsibility’ and questioned whether this was a wise investment of faculty association dollars. The other speaker opposed to the motion read excerpts from the purpose of the association as stated in the bylaws and constitution of the faculty association and rhetorically asked where the words political could be found in our mandate suggesting that the motion was a political act and our purpose was simply to look after the interests of our membership.

However, the overwhelming vote of support (by a margin of two to one, clearly demonstrates the associations’ recognition of the significance of the action taken by the teachers and the inappropriate behaviour of the government in this struggle.

Intial Overview of Strike

Wayne Ross has a very nice overview of the aftermath and implications of the strike at Where the Blog Has No Name.

For myself I am torn between respectful support of the decision of the BCTF exec and the majority of teachers and a sense that the labour movement leadership has yet again demonstrated their unwillingness to back real struggles for social justice.

Listening to Jim Sinclair’s comments on CBC radio early Friday morning October 21st, 2005, I knew right then that the Fed had pulled the plug. Here we were in the midst of one of the most significant labour struggles for many years and the BCTF and CUPE found themselves standing alone on the podium so-to-speak. These debates go back and forth between those who argue they are being realistic and those of us who suggest conservative is a better term to describe the response of the officialdom of labour.

I would also add my disappointment in the legislative actions of the NDP. It has been rumoured that NDP Officials called an end to the filibuster against Bill 12 so that a sense of ‘balance and decorum’ could be maintained and members return to their homes for their long thanksgiving break. Oh for the days of Dave Barrett.

This is not, of course, to say that the NDP didn’t put on a good show -they did. And, several members deserve special mention in the efforts to slow down the passage of Bill 12. People like NDP Ed critic John Horgen, Prince Rupert MLA Gary Coons, and former BCTF President David Chudnovsky. A special mention should go to Corky Evans for his musical interlude late on evening during the debate(Now, as through this world I rambled, I met lots of funny men. Some will rob you with a shotgun and some with a fountain pen). But, where was Carole James? Rumoured to have walked among the masses during the Oct. 17th rally in Victoria she was, by all accounts, not officially present among those who spoke. The party of labour and the official opposition has I would argue a significant obligation to stand up for justice and ethical treatment irrespective of a narrow determination of ‘the law.’

For those interested in a more detailed examination of these issues keep a space in your timetables for the forum being organized at UBC on November 9th at 4:30 pm.

B.C.’s teachers say thank you!

October 24, 2005
B.C.’s teachers say thank you!

Teachers around the province have been moved by the incredible support shown by parents. You brought us goodies while we walked the line. You walked with us in all kinds of weather. You honked your horns and cheered us on as you drove by. Your attendance at the many meetings and rallies encouraged us. We are overwhelmed and heartened by your words of encouragement in the many phone calls, e-mails, and letters received. In countless ways, you bolstered us. We say thank you from the bottom of our hearts.

Your stories about school fees, class sizes, lack of student support, and reduced resources made an impact as those stories reached the general public. Together with teachers, you furthered the public debate about quality public education.

Our goals are to continue to achieve improved learning conditions for our students, guarantees for class size and composition, and more specialist teachers such as teacher-librarians, counsellors, and ESL teachers. These conditions are fundamental to a stable, quality public education system. Our goals also include the restoration of fair, negotiated collective bargaining.

School board meetings, community gatherings, and the upcoming municipal all candidates’ meetings provide opportunities for us to work together in furthering awareness of these important educational issues. Together, we can present our mutual concerns to keep quality public education in the forefront.

We look forward to our continued working together.

Source: BCTF web page.

End of Strike

Teachers across British Columbia have voted 77% to return to their classrooms tomorrow morning, confident in the knowledge that they have reasserted their rights and raised quality public education to the top of the political agenda. (Here is a nice analysis posted by ‘Red Cedar’ on Oct. 21.)BCTF President Jinny Sims and her Executive Committee voted to recommend acceptance of the settlement package crafted by Vince Ready. Clearly teachers shared their leaders’ view that now is the time to get back to work and begin a new stage in their ongoing advocacy for public education.

Of the 30,427 votes cast, 23,632 were yes and 6,795 were no.

“Teachers have voted by a large majority to end our campaign of civil disobedience and to return to work tomorrow,” Sims said. “We will do so with our heads held high, and our hearts touched by the many gestures of kindness and solidarity we have experienced in the past two weeks.”

B.C.’s 38,000 teachers walked out in protest of Bill 12 on October 7, and maintained picket lines at all public schools throughout the province for the next ten school days. About 25,000 CUPE members who work in the school system demonstrated solid support, along with other co-workers from the IUOE and BCGEU.

In addition, thousands of parents, students, and community members joined their teachers on the picket lines and at public rallies, often bringing cookies and coffee along with their good wishes. To the surprise of many political commentators, public support for the teachers remained strong even after the strike was declared illegal.

“We are so grateful for the support from the parents and students, as well as the outstanding solidarity of school support workers and teachers across Canada and even abroad,” said Sims.

“Thank you to everyone who was with us in this struggle to improve classroom conditions and reclaim workers’ rights. Together we have all learned the important lesson that citizens who take a collective stand can make positive change in our democracy,” Sims said.

Sims assured parents that teachers will be working hard to help students make up for lost time, and she is confident they won’t have problems catching up.

However, she said, the work of rebuilding working relationships between teachers and the provincial government will be a more difficult job.

“This government has enacted six pieces of legislation targeting teachers’ rights and profession,” Sims noted. “These actions have undermined our trust in this government.”

Sims said teachers will be watching and holding this government accountable for their promises to amend the School Act to include firm class-size limits for students in Grades 4 through 12, and to address the serious issues of class composition and support for students with special needs.

Tomorrow, Sims and three other BCTF representatives will attend the first meeting of the Learning Roundtable in Victoria.
“We will be bringing a clear message from the thousands of people with whom we have walked and talked these past two weeks,” Sims said. “British Columbians support teachers’ speaking out for students, they care deeply about the learning conditions in their children’s classrooms, and they want the government to reinvest in a strong and stable public school system.”

BCTF Press Releases

Breaking News

Hillary’s On Strike Blog has a nice overview from a rank and file teacher’s perspective of the recent developments.

Surrey Teacher’s Association Recommends No Vote Nine Reasons to Vote No Download file here.

President of Sunshine Coast T.A. gives his personal reasons for voting yes (Click here to read.)

Greater Victoria Teachers’ Association Exec not making a recommendation. See here for details.

Flag at Halfmast. From as long as it takes

Premier’s Office Recommends Unconditional Acceptance of Report.

At an early-morning news conference, meanwhile, B.C. Premier Gordon Campbell also said his government is prepared to accept the facilitator’s report unconditionally, calling it a “constructive framework” for education in the province.

Read the full story in The Globe and Mail

BCTF executive calls for conditional acceptance of the Ready Report. Speaking on CBC Radio this morning, Jinny Simms announced the executive’s decision. If the government will guarantee legislating class size and composition issues by June of 2006 Simms will reluctantly recommend acceptance.

“If they give to us, in writing, a commitment that before the end of June, they will put in place firm numbers in the School Act for grades 4 to 12, and address class composition in the School Act, then we will recommend to our membership, reluctantly, but we will, for our members to vote on Saturday and Sunday so that our students can be back at school on Monday morning.” Jinny Simms on CBC Radio this morning.

Full Story, click here.

Liberal’s true colours revealed: De Jong refuses to commit to amendments to School Act.

One question comes to mind: Why wait until June 2006? It took the liberals less than a week to pass bill 12. I am sure that the passage of amendments to the School Act that enshrines appropriate class size limits and composition would pass easily and quickly.

Extend the school year!

Whether or not teachers’ accept the terms of the Ready Report we need to consider what will happen with the school year. As it stands, the government has won a windfall savings of close to $15 million a day. Let’s put that money to good use. Let’s extend the school year. If education is as essential as Mr. Campbell and Ms Bond say; if there has been such a crisis as Ms. Howland and the BCCPAC have claimed, then let’s do something about. Extend the school year. This way no student misses a precious day of school. Parents won’t mind about cutting into holiday time because we want our children to have the benefit of the maximum possible number of days at school. And, teachers won’t lose any pay in the long run.

Why not?

Highlights of the Ready Report

Highlights of the non-binding recommendations by facilitator Vince Ready to settle the B.C. teachers dispute:

The government should consult with the B.C. Teachers Federation about amending the School Act with respect to class size limits for Grades 4 to 12.

COMMENT The government could easily agree to this but still do next to nothing. To ‘consult with’ simply means that the government hold a meeting with the BCTF, listens to their thoughts, and . . . . There is not obligation to accommodate teachers’ input or concerns. There is no mechanism to ensure that real and meaningful amendments will follow or, if amendments do follow, that they will in fact address the very serious problems caused by the government’s stripping class size and composition language from the BCTF contract.

The B.C. government should provide additional funding of $20 million this year to the issue of class size and special needs students and consider retaining the increased funding in future.

COMMENT Any one time boast to funds leads to problems and disruption in following years if it is not written in as an ongoing budget item. But, $20 million doesn’t really go very far to solve this pressing problem. As a parent of a child who falls into this category I know that system is way under funded. Vancouver itself is millions of dollars underfunded in terms of special needs education alone.

The government should commit to fund $40 million towards harmonization of salary grids through the province. The parties will meet within 60 days of the return to work to determine how the funding will be applied.

COMMENT Harmonization is a nice thought. But how does that help a teacher living in the lowermainland or Kelowna, for example, who’s income is harmonized with a teacher living elsewhere? Given the high cost of housing in areas like the capital district, the lowermainland and the Okanogan, harmonization won’t really address cost of living impacts and the facts that most teachers have in real dollars lost income. Furthermore, if you factor in reduced services to education, increasing class sizes, and changes in class composition teachers have been taking a wage cut. So, harmonization seems a shallow and inadequate solution.

The government and the teachers federation should establish an ongoing process for regular communication on teaching issues, because the dispute “has highlighted a huge gap in avenues of communication between the BCTF and government.’

COMMENT This is one of those ‘no-brainers.’ Yes of course. We need to see how this will be accomplished though. Will there be some concrete examples?

Overall I feel disappointed by these recommendations. As a parent I have seen real and devastating impacts of the current government’s education policy. In their first contract for teachers they legislated cost increases but didn’t fund them. Then they legislated what amounts to a lock-out contract that caused a major walkout. The Ready Report, while it makes some moves toward improving public education, doesn’t really make the grade.

The BC Fed and Jim Sinclair need to keep on the pressure. As parents we need to maintain and expand our support of the teachers.

Charles Menzies

BCTF analysis of the Ready Report: click here.