A group of a dozen or so representing local teachers held signs and banged pots and pans outside the Courtenay office of Courtenay-Comox MLA Ronna-Rae Leonard Thursday afternoon to try to get her attention.
The office was closed, though their point was to draw attention to a lack of progress on a new contract with the Province.
“This is us just trying to say to our MLA that we don’t feel like we’ve been heard,” says Sherry Dittrick, the new president of the Comox District Teachers’ Association. “Many teachers have tried to contact our MLA and haven’t gotten anywhere. There hasn’t been any real response from emails or from phone calls.”
Teachers are concerned about the absence of a contract with the province and the possibility that class size and composition might be changing, particularly that class sizes could increase, but they have not been able to express this to the local MLA though, says Dittrick.
She and vice-president Karla Neufer were able to meet with Scott Fraser, Leonard’s colleague and MLA for Mid Island-Pacific Rim, on Friday, Sept. 13 for 40 minutes in Port Alberni to talk about their concerns.
“We actually had a really nice discussion,” she says. “I think he got the message about why we are very distressed…. This really shouldn’t still be going on.”
Teachers have also been handing out pamphlets to the public to explain what they are asking for concerning improvements to teaching and learning conditions as well as salaries.
Negotiations have been paused since Aug. 30 for a few weeks as the mediator meets with both the BC Teachers’ Federation and the BC Public School Employers’ Association (BCPSEA), which bargains on behalf of school boards in the province.
Language around class size and composition was at the centre of a dispute between the Province and teachers that culminated in a Supreme Court of Canada decision in 2016 that restored provisions for class size and composition. The latest deal with teachers expired in June.
On Friday, Leonard responded to a Record request for comment.
“I want to thank teachers in the Comox Valley for all their amazing, hard work. Our children’s education is in very good hands,” she said via email. “I also want to say our government is devoted to strengthening our public education system and supporting our kids and teachers.
“I had a very good meeting with both the outgoing and current president of the Comox Valley Teachers Association earlier this year to hear their concerns. I’ve also met with the BCTF this summer through two Legislature Standing Committees that I sit on. Due to my previous commitment as the host for an all-day community meeting on agriculture, I was not able to speak with teachers who dropped by my constituency office Thursday.
“I am not part of a bargaining committee, but very much respect the bargaining process and look forward to an agreement being signed.”