Student walkout staged for Wednesday

Richmond teachers on a picket line at McNair Secondary. - Martin van den Hemel
Richmond teachers on a picket line at McNair Secondary.
— image credit: Martin van den Hemel

More than 12,600 students across the province have indicated they'll be participating in a day-long walkout on Wednesday to protest the ongoing labour dispute between the province and the B.C.Teachers Federation.

According to the Facebook page BC Student Walkout for Students, organized by Victoria Barker and Mackenzie Timko, students are being encouraged to walk out of their classes at 9 a.m. and gather at the "street outside your school."

Dubbed The Save our Students, 2014 BC Student Walkout, the effort describes the ongoing labour dispute as "like parents who are divorcing and have stuck their children in the middle for the last 13 years. Each side claims to be 'fighting for the students' yet each side fails to show how they are doing so."

Victoria Baker posted a comment on the Facebook page, explaining the rationale for the walkout: "this is a student walkout to show both the BCTF and the government that we, the students, are tired of being stuck in the middle of their labour disputes and would like to see both sides come together and reach an agreement sooner rather than later."

Barker said the plan calls for students to gather along the streets, and she encouraged them to make up their own signs, though with a caveat. "(M)ake sure that what is said on them neither supports the BCTF nor the government."

Donna Sargent, chair of the Richmond Board of Education, said staff are aware of the plans for a Wednesday walkout, and are monitoring it through social media.

"Student safety is the number one concern," Sargent said, adding that staff at each site will be monitoring the situation to ensure children are safe.

Sargent said she understands the reasoning for the walkout—that students want to express their frustrations at being caught in the middle—but questioned whether the most effective strategy is to lose another day of school.

"Perhaps the walkout is not the best way to do that."

There are other ways, she said, including petitions, letter-writing campaigns, or even requesting a meeting with both parties.

If there's a positive to be drawn from all this, it's that students are sharing their viewpoints, resulting in some critical thinking.

"I think it's actually an important moment to learn that if you do this, this is what will happen," Sargent said, adding that's she's heard mostly engaged and thoughtful reflection.

Cora Gibman, a local Grade 9 student, said she thinks it's amazing that students are coming together to deliver a strong message to both teachers and the provincial government.

"We are fed up with the government and we are fed up with the teachers," she said.

Students need extra class time for help, they need their exams marked, but are like the children stuck in the middle of a bitter divorce.

"What's the point in being in school if nothing is being marked," she questioned.

Aside from the organizational effort through Facebook, she said students are collaborating to buy their own poster boards, arrange their own meals, scheduling breaks and assign protest locations.

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