Families will gather at Victoria school in bid to break strike stalemate

Victoria parents and children plan to cross a picket line at Lansdowne Middle School next week as a symbolic gesture to stop the longest public-school disruption since provincewide collective bargaining for teachers began.

Organizers hope to attract at least 100 people to the school on Sept. 15, citing the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child, including a right to education, as an impetus to breaking the stalemate.

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Today marks Day 18 in missed school for elementary and middle school students in the B.C.-wide strike that started June 17. On Tuesday, hundreds of students rallied at the legislature, saying they felt like hostages in the dispute.

Jane Johnston, one of the organizers of the planned school occupation at Lansdowne on Monday, said students are suffering the most from the strike.

STRIKE NOTES: Updates for those affected by B.C.’s dispute with teachers

“I really don’t think that the students should be a pawn in this game — [I think] that teaching is an essential service,” said Johnston, a mother of two school-aged children and former teacher.

“I’m not saying it’s anyone’s particular fault, but the government is ignoring the urgency.”

Tara Ehrcke, past president of the Greater Victoria Teachers’ Association, said teachers would rather see parents pushing the province to agree to binding arbitration than crossing picket lines. “We would hope they would respect picket lines.”

But Johnston said the group will cross picket lines if they are there. “Our expectation is that our kids should be in school learning and we believe that there should be no line that they should have to cross.”

Colleen Adrian, another organizer, stressed the event is intended to be peaceful and free of confrontation.

“We certainly are in support of teachers and we don’t intend to do anything that jeopardizes their position.”

Victoria district school superintendent Sherri Bell said all schools are open and have principals and vice-principals on site, so the district has no objections to the group’s plans to enter the school.

“We’d be more than happy to have them walk in the school.”

Event organizers want the government, represented by the B.C. Public School Employers’ Association, and the B.C. Teachers’ Federation to settle the dispute so classes can resume on or before Monday.

Teachers vote today on a proposal to end the strike if the province agrees to binding arbitration.

The current disruption is the longest since provincewide collective bargaining began in 1987, Ehrcke said, noting that students missed 10 days in 2005 because of a strike.

Asked if the dispute will be resolved by Monday, Greater Victoria board chairwoman Peg Orcherton said: “I hate to say it — I think it’s unlikely.”

Orcherton said the Greater Victoria board wants both sides to engage, but the government has “the power and the responsibility” to end the strike.

The board called Tuesday for binding arbitration, a position rejected twice by Education Minister Peter Fassbender.

The public is invited to join the school occupation on Monday, which begins at 10 a.m. The group will meet ahead of time at nearby Hillside shopping centre.

Find information on their Facebook page, facebook.com/EndThe Strike/StoptheFight.

kdedyna@timescolonist.com

jwbell@timescolonist.com

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