Teachers' job action cancels recess
By Adam MacDonald
As of April 23, teachers across B.C. have begun low level stage one job action in response to a year long stalemate in negotiations with the provincial government. Teachers will no longer be supervising students outside the classroom or communicating in writing with administrators, action that was not intended to affect students. However, this prompted several districts across B.C., including School District 5 (SD5), to cancel recess.
In a letter sent home with students on Monday, SD5 Superintendent Lynn Hauptman wrote, “After careful consideration of our available resources and wanting to ensure student safety given the increased supervision at schools and limited exempt staff capacity, we have decided to cancel recess and shorten the school day by 15 minutes in all of our elementary schools.”
“Cancelling recess is a tactic by the government to turn public opinion against teachers,” said Fernie Secondary teacher David Pasivirta. “The last time we went on strike, admins were able to supervise recess and it allowed the students their break. Now, under similar circumstances, district staff have decided they are not able to provide a recess break for the students.
“This reflects poorly on teachers because they say it is due to the strike. Taking recess away seems like an effective strategy to me,” he added.
The B.C. Teachers’ Federation (BCTF) is urging school districts to reconsider their recess cancellations, calling it an “unnecessary and inappropriate step.”
“The decision was made in the best interest of staff,” said Frank Lento, chair of SD5’s Board of Trustees. “Teachers are too valuable for us to make a political move like that. It is the furthest thing from our minds. The board is hoping to revisit the decision in the near future.”
“Principals, vice-principals, and excluded staff are more than capable of supervising the playground for 15 minutes each day,” said BCTF President Jim Iker in a press release last Wednesday. “Teachers’ stage one job action is administrative in nature only. Any recess cancellations fall squarely on the shoulders of school districts unwilling to move their staff around. Furthermore, teachers will continue to do previously scheduled voluntary activities. As such, there is no reason for any districts to cancel events, trips, or extra-curricular activities.”
Earlier this year, the B.C. Supreme Court ruled that the government’s passing of legislation to wipe out class size restrictions was unconstitutional, and concluded that the government tried to provoke a strike. Since then, the provincial government has successfully applied to have the ruling put on hold until an appeal is heard, with Education Minister Peter Fassbender saying the court ruling was not affordable for taxpayers. A recent radio ad, published by the BCTF, highlights this financial tension, reporting “cuts to programs, teachers, and support for students with special needs, all because per student funding is $1,000 below the national average.”
“It is unclear where things are going,” said Lento, “If there is some movement on the government’s side, we will likely see de-escalation, so that’s what we are hoping for.”