PORT McNEILL—British Columbia’s students may be suffering some negative impacts from the ongoing labour strife between teachers and the province.
But a number of them are proving very astute at applying lessons learned in civics and current events.
With Twisted Sister’s We’re Not Gonna Take It blaring as a backdrop, a group of about 30 NISS students walked out last Wednesday to picket in protest of the series of rotating strikes and corresponding lockout that have resulted from failed negotiations between the B.C. Teachers’ Federation and provincial negotiators.
“We’re not striking for teachers, and we’re not striking for the government,” said Gavin Baumbach, a Grade 12 student from Alert Bay who graduated three days later. “We’re not taking sides here. The best analogy I’ve heard is that they’re like two parents who are divorcing. When things start getting nasty between them, they’re not thinking about the kids.”
He, like fellow Alert Bay Grade 12 Aaron Nickol, said their parents were supportive of their decision to walk out for the day, even though some of the students received rebukes from their own parents.
When word reached School District 85 officials in the days before the student walkout, they responded with a letter cautioning parents that the district did not condone nor support the action, and that school officials would be unable to guarantee the safety of students who left school grounds during the day.
“We all fully respect the voice of students and their legitimate right to share their concerns, and we do not want to unduly alarm parents or students about the potential risks of participating in the walkout.” SD85 Superintendent Scott Benwell wrote. “However, it is our shared responsibility to ensure parents and students are aware of the risks.”
Mary Mavis of the North Island Community Services Society, who has interacted with a number of the striking students through the NICSS-run teen drop-in centre, had mixed feelings about the event.
“I understand their passion about this. In fact, I admire it,” Mavis said of the students. “But I am concerned about their safety, and I appreciate the school district notifying the families.”
Mavis added she was 100 per cent behind the teachers in their current bargaining efforts, but Baumbach stuck with his pox-on-both-their-houses position as classmates stood across the street from the school, holding signs and waving to passing motorists.
“I’ve done a lot of research,” he said. “While I personally feel supportive of some of the things teachers are asking for, the money takes over. When the government offered (a contract of) 10 years at seven per cent (pay raise) teachers responded with four years and 13 per cent.
“If you’re going to be striking for the students, make sure you don’t make it all about your pay.”