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BC  

Students lament strike

Queena Zeng anticipated her final year of high school would be fairly stressful, packed with SAT cram sessions and the nerve-racking wait for university acceptance letters.

Instead, Zeng, 17, is afraid crucial learning time is being wasted for her and half-a-million other British Columbia public school students who won't be starting their school year on time.

While the rest of the country's children went back to class on Tuesday, the province's fall term began under the cloud of a teachers' strike that started 14 weeks ago and has no apparent end in sight.

"Personally, my friends, we feel neglected. We're just here on the sidewalks waiting for something to happen," said Zeng, who should be attending Grade 12 at Steveston-London Secondary School in Richmond.

"Nobody knows the answer and it's tough. People do want to go back to school."

The province's more than 40,000 teachers have been without a contract since June 2013. The union mounted escalating stages of labour action starting last April in an attempt to get movement from the employer at the bargaining table. After three weeks of rotating strikes, teachers launched a full-scale walkout about two weeks before the end of the last school year.

Bargaining has been limited, with a single meeting in early August between the BC Teachers' Federation and BC Public School Employers' Association, which acts on behalf of the government. Last hopes were pegged on a flurry of talks with a veteran mediator over the long weekend, but negotiations broke down when Vince Ready declared an impasse because the sides are too far apart.

Both parties accuse each other of refusing to budge on contract demands, with the government suggesting the gulf is $300 million while the union says it has already chopped $100 million from its proposal. No new meetings have been scheduled.

Union president Jim Iker said the teachers' No. 1 priority is getting a guaranteed funding to improve class size, class composition and increasing the number of specialist teachers. Wages and the term of the contract are within distance, in his view.

"We don't want to be out on the line. We would rather be in our schools today," Iker told reporters on Tuesday as teachers picketed outside Vancouver's Britannia Secondary. "(But) for us to relieve all pressure on government, that's not going to get us a deal."

The government is giving $40 per day to parents of children 12 and under for each day the strike continues to supplement child care and tutoring costs.

The majority of the people who took a Castanet poll on Monday said they want a deal negotiated not legislated.

Here is the poll:

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