Teachers picket outside Earl Marriott Secondary in South Surrey Wednesday.

Teachers picket outside Earl Marriott Secondary in South Surrey Wednesday.

Arrange childcare, Surrey School District tells parents

Clock ticks down as scheduled opening day draws near in the midst of a labour dispute

Surrey school officials are not optimistic parents will receive a last-minute reprieve.

In a letter to parents this week, superintendent Jordan Tinney encourages them to “begin to make alternate arrangements for the care of their children.”

“While we continue to hope for a resolution at the bargaining table, a deal does not appear to be likely this week,” Tinney writes.

He notes that if a deal is reached in the days ahead, “there is still time for schools to open on Sept. 2.”

The final week of the summer holiday opened Sunday with a demand in Kamloops from B.C. Teachers Federation president Jim Iker for an immediate start to mediation.

No formal bargaining dates are scheduled, but Iker, Education Minister Peter Fassbender and government negotiator Peter Cameron were to meet Wednesday afternoon in Victoria, raising hopes for some movement.

Teachers have also stepped up picketing as both sides prepare for the strike to stretch into September. Pickets were up outside select Surrey high schools this week.

At the same time, some are offering to fill the daycare void for parents stranded by the strike.

Elgin Park Secondary teacher Camila Muir describes the provincial government’s offer of $40 per day to help parents pay for childcare during the teacher strike as “ridiculous.”

The lump-sum payouts to parents following the end of the strike will consume all of the $12 million a day in strike savings the government would have amassed going forward.

It’s money that would be better spent helping improve the education system, Muir said.

She decided to offer daycare in South Surrey as soon as she heard of the funding plan, but decided this week to withdraw her offer following word the work could be deemed a breach of union policy.

She said her online ad gave her a good sense of the need.

“There’s lots of interest,” she said. “I just don’t want to do anything (that could jeopardize a agreement).”

Marion Goriak was among parents who had taken Muir up on the offer, after turning to Craigslist to find care for her seven-year-old daughter, Tasha, who is deaf.

For Tasha, school is “her whole life,” Goriak said. “It’s her social life, it’s her friends.”

When the strike triggered an early end to the 2013-2014 school year, Tasha – who attends the School for the Deaf in Burnaby – was “just a mess,” Goriak said.

“I’ve just been sick the whole summer, worried about what am I going to do.”

Goriak said many caregivers are nervous about taking on a deaf child –  or any child with special needs.

“I rely on the school,” she said. “All our children need school… but for my younger daughter, so much more is at stake.”

Goriak said she has enlisted family and a friend to help out, “but it’s going to be tough” if the strike continues. She knows of other parents who are in a similar position.

While both sides blame the other for the gulf between positions, Goriak said she firmly backs teachers, based on her experience in the school system.

“The teachers are just stretched so far,” she said. “I would like to see the government step up, do the right thing by parents.”

As the two sides met Wednesday, Surrey-White Rock MLA Gordon Hogg told Peace Arch News his office has heard from constituents “on all sides of the issue.”

“Hopefully, something will come out of this meeting,” he said. “We all want to see the kids back in school, the teachers back in school.”

– with files from Jeff Nagel