B.C. Education Minister Peter Fassbender.

Province eyes longer school year to offset strike

Education Minister could make Grade 12 students 'whole' by adding days to calendar or carving into holidays

Education Minister Peter Fassbender says the province may take extraordinary steps to ensure senior secondary students’ school year is not cut short by the teachers strike.

That could mean adding days to the school calendar later in the year, he said, to ensure Grade 12 students in particular complete their courses and get all the marks they need.

“Do you put it on the end of the year? Do you take it out of Spring Break? Do you take it out of Christmas holidays? My staff are looking at all of the options,” Fassbender said.

“It’s going to depend on how long this drags out. Whatever length of time it takes to get this settled, we will do everything we can to make sure the school year is kept whole for those students.”

It’s unclear how the government would finance adding extra days of classes later when all of the $12 million per day in strike savings may be consumed by the province’s offer of $40-a-day payments to parents.

“If they were accumulating the savings, that would be one thing – they would have a fund,” Vancouver School Board chair Patti Bacchus said. “But they’re giving away the budget right now to parents that would be otherwise available to pay for that.”

As of Thursday, 63 per cent of parents of eligible public school children under 13 had signed up for the $40 payments, which are expected to be made as a lump sum after the strike ends.

Other costs that the province continues to incur while schools are closed include salaries for school administration as well as support staff with other unions that are eligible to be compensated for pay lost for not crossing teacher picket lines.

Support staff costs could hit $5 million a day once all their union locals ratify new contracts.

Education ministry officials said school districts would be consulted on any potential changes to the school year to mitigate the strike.

But Bacchus said she’s heard nothing so far and predicted it would be disruptive to families that have booked vacations and made other commitments far in advance.

“It’s not going to be easy,” she said, noting changes would also require exemptions from School Act requirements.

Talk of calendar adjustments is another sign of possible long-term implications from the strike, even though it has only disrupted the first few days of the new school year.

Parents have scrambled for limited space for child care, day camps, tutors and even private school placements for their children.

Stepping up to meet the demand have been independent schools and, increasingly, public school teachers no longer drawing a regular paycheque who are advertising “tutor” services online.

“I work for the Surrey School District and I am willing to tutor your child in the comfort of your own home,” reads one Craigslist post from an elementary school teacher.

Distance learning through independent online schools is another option.

The B.C. Online School run out of Kelowna by Heritage Christian Schools has been swamped with three times the normal number applications for distributed learning from students across the province as a result of the strike.

“We are overloaded with kids coming to us, particularly those in Grade 12 who want to get a particular course and get their requirements for university,” said superintendent Greg Bitgood.

The online school, which is half funded by the province, instructed 3,400 students in its summer school – three times the normal number – and turned away another 6,000.

Demand has surged again now that the strike has spilled into September and pushed back the scheduled start of classes.

Bitgood is weighing whether to hire more teachers in response.

But it’s risky because a deal or government legislation could send teachers back to work and students back to regular classes, said Bitgood,  who emphasized he also wants the public school shutdown to end quickly.

There’s only four such independent schools that offer distributed learning to students in the public system, Bitgood said, adding “there’s no way” the industry can meet the demand created by the strike.

Another independent online school based in Surrey declined to comment, saying the issue was “too sensitive.”

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Seabird Island COVID-19 ‘scare’ has passed, Chief states

Reaffirmation comes during Chief Harris’s weekly video address

SLIDESHOW: Chilliwack firefighters battle large blaze at Rosedale chicken barn Friday

Majority of birds saved but buildings on Castleman Road destroyed by fire

Chilliwack Fair kicks off tonight with local talent

Todd Richard and Appaloosa to hit the stage for drive-in concert at fairgrounds

Firefighters bring Sts’ailes FSR fire under control

Blaze held at bay after burning 15 hectares of land

VIDEO: Chilliwack chicken barn destroyed by fire

Chickens saved from blaze as firefighters work to control large fire

53 new COVID-19 cases, no new deaths cap off week of high infection rates in B.C.

Roughly 1,500 people are self-isolating because they either have COVID-19 or have been exposed to it

Fraser Valley Bandits advance to CEBL Championship Game

Bandits post comeback 76-75 win over Hamilton Honey Badgers in Saturday’s semifinal

IHIT on scene of suspicious early-morning fire on rural Mission property

Entrance to Gunn Avenue property cordoned off while investigation takes place, updates coming

Moving on: Tanev scores 11 seconds into OT as Canucks oust Wild

Vancouver beats Minnesota 5-4 to move into first round of NHL playoffs

FURTHER UPDATE: Body removed from Maple Ridge hotel after large police presence

A large contingent of Mounties were at the Art Infiniti Hotel Friday afternoon and evening

Gene editing debate takes root with organic broccoli, new UBC research shows

Broccoli is one of the best-known vegetables with origins in this scientific haze

VIDEO: U.S. Air Force pilot does fly-by for B.C. son amid COVID border separation

Sky-high father-son visit plays out over White Rock Pier

3 Vancouver police officers test positive for COVID after responding to large party

Union president says other officers are self-isolating due to possible exposure

New mothers with COVID-19 should still breastfeed: Canada’s top doctor

Dr. Theresa Tam made the recommendation during World Breastfeeding Awareness Week

Most Read