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BCTF responds to School Act, union expulsions

The BC Teachers' Federation says proposed changes to the school calendar could mean positive results for some students, but negative results for families with children in different schools. Union President Susan Lambert says other changes to the School Act show government's preference for privatization and school reform under the guise of "choice."

Yesterday The Hook reported proposed changes to the School Act including the elimination of the strict school calendar, the enhancement of online learning for Kindergarten to Grade 9, and the introduction of district fees for international baccalaureate programs if districts can't afford the extra costs.

Lambert says studies she's read have shown a positive and negative side to a balanced school calendar. She urges school trustees to tread carefully and do their research before changing the calendar.

"It seems especially socio-economically deprived children do benefit from programs in the summer, and I think we ought to put programs in place for those children," she says. "(But) I am very concerned about the impact on families of differentiated school calendars within a district.

"I know that there was a balanced calendar at an elementary school in Mission at one time, and parents fell away from the notion once they realized that one sibling had gone to secondary that that sibling was on a different calendar."

The push towards online, more personalized learning shows Education Minister George Abbott has a different view of public education, Lambert told The Tyee.

"I think that there's, embedded in this flexibility and choice mantra and this whole notion of personalized learning in the 21st century, individualism irregardless of any effect in terms of interactions with one's peers. So you go in this plan to online programs for kindergarten children, and that to my mind is a dreadful notion," she says, adding primary schooling should be about social interaction.

"I think my vision is more of a vision where we are enabling our future to be very active agents in the development of social systems that benefit everyone. So it's very collective, collaborative, and cooperative skills that we are trying to give our future citizens."

She says the decision to allow districts to charge fees for international baccalaureate programs also pushes the public system towards privatization. She says it offers a tiered education system where students who can pay for "choice" get a better education than those that can't pay.

Lambert also responded to the Nanaimo Daily News story that broke yesterday, quoting Nanaimo District Teachers' Association President Derek DeGear as saying any teacher that refused to withdraw from extracurricular activities would be kicked out of the union and lose their job.

"There are several avenues that could be taken if some teachers choose to continue offering voluntary services and that would be up to the BCTF," he is quoted as saying. "The BCTF could decide to publicize the names of the teachers or even withdraw their union membership, which is needed for them to teach."

Lambert says DeGear wasn't properly informed of the policies under section 40.22 of the BCTF Members' Guide, which outlines the sanctions applicable to a teacher who disobeys a collective action. Sanctions can include "publication of such breach; warning to the member; reprimand to the member; withholding Federation or local payment or compensation for participation in the collective strategy; suspension of the right of the member to hold office in the BCTF and/or local or sublocal and/or any bodies of the union for a specific period of time; imposition of a combination of the foregoing penalties commensurate with the breach."

In all her years with the union, however, Lambert says she doesn't remember any collective action that paid teachers: "I don't quite know what that would be about, that must be an old part," she says.

Katie Hyslop reports on youth issues and education for The Tyee Solutions Society.

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