Janet Steffenhagen of the Vancouver Sun writes about the Teacher Strike

B.C. students disappointed, businesses worried as teachers cancel end-of-year camping trips

BY JANET STEFFENHAGEN, VANCOUVER SUN

Students are heartbroken and some parents are fuming after teachers at a Vancouver Island elementary school abruptly cancelled plans for an end-of-year camping trip in Strathcona Park as part of their anti-government protest.

“This is a message I wish I did not have to write,” teacher Denis Morin said in a email to parents of Grade 7 students at Ecole Robb Road, announcing that he and teacher Veronique Turpin will not be going on the five-day trip after all, despite months of planning, fundraising and eager anticipation among their young students.

“I have been struggling with this for quite a while but I feel I have no other options but to stand up and defend what I think is right for public education, for the democratic rights of workers and for the teaching profession,” he said in the email Friday. “The current government is taking the approach that we are their employees and that we should obey their commands.”

Similar messages are being delivered to families around the province following a B.C. Teachers’ Federation decision to withdraw from extracurricular activities to protest a government law that ordered a six-month cooling-off period in their contract feud and installed a mediator to try to resolve numerous issues in dispute.

Shanna Ball, one of the Robb Road parents, said she is furious with the teachers because they had promised the students the trip would go ahead even while union frustration was building during the school year. The parents paid a lump sum of $3,300 to hold space for the students and the deadline for a refund was the end of February.

“The students were crushed,” she said, noting some were in tears. Ball said she was also angry to hear from her daughter that students were told at school that government was to blame for not treating teachers with respect. “They’re indoctrinating these kids — these 12- and 13-year-olds,” she said in an interview.

No one from the school or the district office responded to requests from The Vancouver Sun for an interview.

The BCTF protest is having effects outside the classroom too, as education camps struggle to survive despite a drop in attendance.

“We aren’t predicting that we’ll go broke but it’ll be a rough year,” said Jamie Boulding, executive director of the Strathcona Park Outdoor Education Centre. Although the centre doesn’t cater solely to students, reservations have already plunged by 25 per cent and more cancellations are expected. “It’ll be the end of May before we know the financial impact,” he said.

On Hornby Island, the Tribune Bay Outdoor Education Centre is also feeling the pinch. “Our numbers are way down,” sighed manager Gord Campbell, and that’s forced him to reduce the number of staff he will employ this summer. The YMCA’s Elphinstone Camp on the Sunshine Coast typically hosts 60 schools at this time of year, but that’s dropped to 46.

While not criticizing teachers for their protest, the camp operators expressed regret that many students were losing wonderful outdoor experiences, such as canoeing, hiking, campfires, leadership lessons and team-building. For students leaving their elementary schools and heading to high school next fall, these end-of-year camps have become a rite of passage.

Boulding said he was particularly sorry for children from disadvantaged neighbourhoods. “The schools cancelling first are from the poorest parts of town,” he said. “It’s not a fair world out there.”

Not all teachers are cancelling, although the situation is still in flux. In North Vancouver, for example, the union said its members could still attend the Outdoor School/Big House as long as they did not provide supervision or instruction outside of regular school hours. The district recently nixed that idea, saying it couldn’t guarantee student safety under those conditions. Discussions continue.

jsteffenhagen@vancouversun.com

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