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Nervous New Westminster parents worry about teacher job action

New Westminster parents may be feeling more nervous than their kids about a new school year that begins in the midst of contract negotiations between teachers and the Ministry of Education.

New Westminster Teachers Union president Grant Osborne said phase one of the teachers' tactics, which include replacing official, written evaluations with informal parent-teacher talks, will be limited to administrative duties.

"Students and parents shouldn't really notice any changes. The entire emphasis of phase one is pressure on the administration."

But that doesn't help quell the butterflies in some parents' stomachs.

"I'm a bit fuzzy as to how the assessment will be done. The teachers' verbal promise is not binding," said MaryAnne Mortensen, chair of School District 40's Parent Advisory Committee (DPAC).

"We fully support our teachers, but I don't see how not assessing students will not have an impact on us. [Assessments] are important for catching things like speech impairments, sight issues, learning disabilities and social challenges. The earlier they're able to address these issues with a parent the better," said Mortensen.

In addition to not filling out report cards and other official, written assessments, teachers will not be attending meetings called by administrators and they will not be supervising during recess. That duty will be taken over by administrators, so recess won't be cancelled in New West, said Osborne, who met with local school administrators Aug. 30.

Neither will extracurricular activities, which will still be run by teachers and volunteers.

School board vice chair James Janzen said that plans to deal with the job action are stillĀ  "a work in progress" but that parents and students should not be too inconvenienced.

"I think there'll be an impact for sure, but the impact will be pretty minimal," said Janzen.

The million-dollar question that neither Janzen nor Osborne can answer is how long the teachers' job action will last, or whether it would evolve to a full-blown strike.

At the provincial level, teachers have been negotiating their salary and benefits.

B.C. teachers are eighth in the country in terms of salary despite living in one of the most expensive provinces and benefits haven't been addressed since 1994, according to Osborne.

"[The province's] policy says no public service contract will be given an increase, or if there is an increase there has to be a cut somewhere else in public education, but we've been cut down to the bone," said Osborne. "No, no and cuts is all we get from the province."

While sympathetic with teachers, Mortensen isn't entirely appeased by their reassurances.

"I don't think the intent is to target kids, but any job action will negatively impact the whole school community. I suppose that's their bargaining chip and it's their right," said Mortensen. "I don't have an issue with putting pressure on an employer, but I think there will be an impact on parents and children."

If parents are worried, she said, the first thing to do is contact school principals for answers to their questions about what to expect.

If they don't find the answers they're looking at their schools, parents should get in touch with school district trustees.

Contact information is available through the school district website, which has links to pages for most schools:

http://district.sd40.bc.ca/

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