School field trips to take place without teachers

PORT McNEILL-Administrators, parents meet at Sunset Elementary after teachers vote to withdraw services from extracurricular activities

PORT McNEILL—Sunset Elementary School students will travel for a pair of popular field trips this spring, but their teachers will remain behind.

The weeklong trips — a grade 4-6 excursion to Camp Homewood on Quadra Island May 14-18 and a grade 7 visit to Victoria June 11-15 — were placed in jeopardy after B.C. teachers voted to withdraw services from extracurricular activities.

Following a hastily called meeting with parents Tuesday evening, administrators at Sunset Elementary School have decided the field trips will take place as scheduled, with administrators taking on supervisory roles.

“We are thrilled the kids get to go on the field trips they’ve fundraised all year to go on,” said Rena Sweeney, Sunset principal.

Larry Burroughs, the retired former principal of Cheslakees Elementary in Port McNeill, will be hired as acting vice principal for a week to lead the grade 7 trip with a group of parent chaperones. Sweeney and Drew Nielson, principal of A.J. Elliott School in Sointula, will share supervision of the Camp Homewood trip. Parent volunteers will also take part on that field trip, which will include grade 5 students from A.J. Elliott and Port Hardy’s Fort Rupert Elementary School.

“Camp Homewood has been very accommodating so Drew and I can split the week there,” said Sweeney, who noted spring is a particularly difficult time for administrators to be away from their duties for extended periods of time.

The field trips were threatened with postponement after the B.C. Teachers Federation, which includes the Vancouver Island North Teachers Association, voted April 17-19 to withdraw services from extracurricular activities.

That vote, approved by 73 per cent of BCTF members, was the latest salvo in a nearly yearlong action to establish a new collective bargaining agreement with the B.C. Public School Employers’ Association, and was a direct response to the government’s passage of Bill 22, the Education Improvement Act.

When notified the teachers would not be taking part in the overnight field trips, and that funds raised by the students for the trips would be held by School District 85, several Sunset parents reacted angrily.

SD85 officials assured the families the funds would be held for the trips, but those trips could be postponed indefinitely if district staffers were unable to travel during the dates scheduled.

Sweeney sent a letter home Tuesday with students in the affected classes, inviting families to a meeting that evening to discuss alternatives to the field trips. About two dozen parents attended and offered suggestions, comments and criticism.

Parents offered to work on and draw up a plan for the overnight trips, but Sweeney set some ground rules.

“My comfort-level includes a teacher,” she said, hoping someone holding a teacher’s certification could be involved in the trip. Many parents liked this idea.

“There’s this bond of trust between the kids and the teachers,” said Penny Mills, pointing out that students would be in a new environment with possible strangers. Other parents disagreed, and said the bond of trust had been broken.

“They’ve been waiting all year for this,” said Shanna Shambrook. “We can’t take this away from them.”

After contacting Burroughs and Camp Homewood officials, Sweeney sent another letter on Wednesday informing the families the trips would take place as scheduled, with administrators in charge.

“The trips were never cancelled,” said Sweeney. “The reservations were still being held while we looked at possibilities to make the trips happen. We went to the parents looking for solutions.”

School District 85 superintendent Scott Benwell said the decision on the trips was up to the school’s administrators.

“This is a school-based decision, with support of the district office,” said Benwell. “It is always a local school principal’s decision, but of course we work with the principals and support them.

“We really want to compliment the parents and the administrators for approaching this with a can-do attitude, and we’re pleased students will be going on the trips.”

The long-term outlook for overnight school trips is less certain, while the teachers continue their fight to maintain full collective bargaining rights and restore class size and composition limits.

“We understand the relationship between students and teachers,” said Fred Robertson, VINTA president. “This is the most difficult part of any of our job actions, to be honest, and it’s only entered into very reluctantly in response to the odious threat posed by the passage of Bill 22. Children stand to be hurt by the cuts, the loss of class size limits, the loss of resources and the loss of due process.”

 

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