B.C. Education Minister Peter Fassbender.

Province eyes longer school year to offset strike

Education Minister could make Grade 12 students 'whole' by adding days to calendar or carving into holidays

Education Minister Peter Fassbender says the province may take extraordinary steps to ensure senior secondary students’ school year is not cut short by the teachers strike.

That could mean adding days to the school calendar later in the year, he said, to ensure Grade 12 students in particular complete their courses and get all the marks they need.

“Do you put it on the end of the year? Do you take it out of Spring Break? Do you take it out of Christmas holidays? My staff are looking at all of the options,” Fassbender said.

“It’s going to depend on how long this drags out. Whatever length of time it takes to get this settled, we will do everything we can to make sure the school year is kept whole for those students.”

It’s unclear how the government would finance adding extra days of classes later when all of the $12 million per day in strike savings may be consumed by the province’s offer of $40-a-day payments to parents.

“If they were accumulating the savings, that would be one thing – they would have a fund,” Vancouver School Board chair Patti Bacchus said. “But they’re giving away the budget right now to parents that would be otherwise available to pay for that.”

As of Thursday, 63 per cent of parents of eligible public school children under 13 had signed up for the $40 payments, which are expected to be made as a lump sum after the strike ends.

Other costs that the province continues to incur while schools are closed include salaries for school administration as well as support staff with other unions that are eligible to be compensated for pay lost for not crossing teacher picket lines.

Support staff costs could hit $5 million a day once all their union locals ratify new contracts.

Education ministry officials said school districts would be consulted on any potential changes to the school year to mitigate the strike.

But Bacchus said she’s heard nothing so far and predicted it would be disruptive to families that have booked vacations and made other commitments far in advance.

“It’s not going to be easy,” she said, noting changes would also require exemptions from School Act requirements.

Talk of calendar adjustments is another sign of possible long-term implications from the strike, even though it has only disrupted the first few days of the new school year.

Parents have scrambled for limited space for child care, day camps, tutors and even private school placements for their children.

Stepping up to meet the demand have been independent schools and, increasingly, public school teachers no longer drawing a regular paycheque who are advertising “tutor” services online.

“I work for the Surrey School District and I am willing to tutor your child in the comfort of your own home,” reads one Craigslist post from an elementary school teacher.

Distance learning through independent online schools is another option.

The B.C. Online School run out of Kelowna by Heritage Christian Schools has been swamped with three times the normal number applications for distributed learning from students across the province as a result of the strike.

“We are overloaded with kids coming to us, particularly those in Grade 12 who want to get a particular course and get their requirements for university,” said superintendent Greg Bitgood.

The online school, which is half funded by the province, instructed 3,400 students in its summer school – three times the normal number – and turned away another 6,000.

Demand has surged again now that the strike has spilled into September and pushed back the scheduled start of classes.

Bitgood is weighing whether to hire more teachers in response.

But it’s risky because a deal or government legislation could send teachers back to work and students back to regular classes, said Bitgood,  who emphasized he also wants the public school shutdown to end quickly.

There’s only four such independent schools that offer distributed learning to students in the public system, Bitgood said, adding “there’s no way” the industry can meet the demand created by the strike.

Another independent online school based in Surrey declined to comment, saying the issue was “too sensitive.”

Just Posted

Veterans’ Affairs minister sits down with Kelowna vets

Seamus O’Regan said government changes are improving benefits for Canada’s veterans

Okanagan tourists undeterred by smoke

Diverse array of tourist experiences paying dividends

Stream of federal Liberal ministers and MPs to pass through Kelowna this week

In addition to ministers making announcements, the Pacific Liberal caucus will meet in the city

Crews continue mop up at Gottfriedsen Mountain wildfire

Firefighters are working alongside the military to extinguish the wildfire near West Kelowna

Organized labour’s annual Labour Day picnic slated for Sept. 3 in Kelowna

The North Okanagan Labour Council will host the event in Mission Creek Park

UPDATE: Air quality improves slightly

Breathing conditions are improving, though still not ideal

Muslims celebrate Eid al-Adha as pilgrims conduct hajj rites

More than 2 million pilgrims carry out the final rites of the hajj in Saudi Arabia

White Spot records B.C. Pirate Pak record day

Popular B.C.-Alberta event raises more than $116,000 to send kids and adults to Zajac Ranch

Evacuation alert for Dark Lake Valley area

There are 21 properties are affected

B.C. team stays alive in Little League World Series after another nail-biter

Surrey-based squad scored a 6-4 win over Mexico reps in Williamsport on Monday

Kids, seniors at risk as smoke from distant fires hangs over parts of B.C.

B.C. Centre for Disease Control says children’s lungs don’t fully develop until about age 10

B.C. mother charged in 7-year-old daughter’s death appears in court

The 36-year-old mother, of Langley’s Aaliyah Rosa, has been charged with second-degree murder

Troops heading to Lumby/Cherryville to lend a hand with wildfires

Canadian Armed Troops expected to be in the area by the end of the week

Thieves target tires and rims in Shuswap

Salmon Arm RCMP report two recent incidents, a van used in one theft was stolen in Surrey

Most Read