Nanaimo teachers say dispute about class composition

Nanaimo District Secondary School staff Darlene Carolsfeld, left, Stephanie Robinson, Chantal Bernier and Leila Rai were among dozens of Nanaimo teachers walking the picket lines Tuesday as the B.C. Teachers
Nanaimo District Secondary School staff Darlene Carolsfeld, left, Stephanie Robinson, Chantal Bernier and Leila Rai were among dozens of Nanaimo teachers walking the picket lines Tuesday as the B.C. Teachers' Federation ratchets up pressure on the B.C. government with a series of rotation strikes across the province.
— image credit: CHRIS BUSH/The News Bulletin

While some say wages are at the heart of the current teacher dispute, employees of Lantzville’s Seaview Elementary School say it is class size, composition and staffing.

Elementary school teachers Sue Trebett, Lindsay Miller, Donna Swerhun, Travis Preston and Jeff Schultz are all expressing concern that students aren’t getting the proper education due to cutbacks and lack of funding.

Teachers across the province staged a second round of job action this week with rotating strikes, which happened in Nanaimo on Tuesday. In response, the provincial government locked out teachers for 45 minutes before and after school, as well as recess and lunch.

Miller said prior to 2002, when the government stripped away class size and composition language via Bill 22, the allowable numbers for kindergarten to Grade 3 were 22 students – now it is 24. The allowable for Grades 4 to 7 was 26 for a split class and 29 for a straight grade, a number that has increased to 30.

Composition refers to the number of students with special needs in a classroom.

She said the increase makes a big difference and staffing cutbacks have not helped.

“Donna, Sue and I have been teaching for many, many years and we can say for sure that until 13 years ago, things were so much different,” Miller told the News Bulletin. “There were seven or eight [educational assistants] in the school who were dedicated with two or three children.

“Now those poor EAs are fragmented, they’re racing from class to class trying to get there at the most opportune times for teaching ... we went from seven to one; in September we had one EA.”

Preston said there used to be no ratios but that has changed.

“There used to be no ratios and then they changed that to where there were certain ratios where for every school, every 250 kids you had a librarian and you had a counsellor and you had all this,” he said. “Now they’re just expanding that so every 600 kids gets a library.

“So a librarian has to be shared with three schools and every counsellor now is responsible for four schools, so they’re spread so thin that they’re not able to do any good.”

Staffing cuts also have the potential to limit access to help for students who need it most, according to Preston.

“There are a lot of kids with special needs but there are even more that go undiagnosed because there is such a backlog because those positions have been cut back, so that’s the part that’s more concerning,” he said. “You might have five special needs kids in your class but you might have another seven that are undiagnosed.”

“There are some kids that are not getting the support they deserve.”

In a letter from the employers’ association to the union detailing the lockout, administrator Michael Marchbank said restoring class size and composition limits to 2002 levels would be “enormously” expensive.

Negotiations are continuing between the B.C. Teachers’ Federation and the B.C. Public Schools Employers’ Association.

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