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Teachers walk the line

Deborah Pfeiffer

South Okanagan teachers carried signs and walked the streets in front of their schools on Wednesday.

The strike action by School District 53 South Okanagan Similkameen took place on the third day of rotating teacher strikes being held province-wide.

"The main issues are class size and composition and salary and in general the underfunding to the public education system," said Sylvia Slater, president of the South Okanagan Similkameen Teachers' Union. "The partial lockout effective Monday is also a huge concern, because they've defined our hours of work, yet they still expect us to do all of the work with our students."

Slater said teachers from Okanagan Falls, Oliver, Osoyoos, Cawston and Keremeos were on strike on Wednesday.

"We have a membership of 200 and the majority of them are picketing in those towns," she said.

In Oliver, several carrying signs saying, "Fair Deal for Teachers, Better Support for Kids," were out in front of Oliver Elementary School and Southern Okanagan Secondary School.

Nikki MacNaughton, a teacher at Oliver Elementary, said she thinks that composition is a bigger issue than any of the others they are dealing with.

"I think teachers are happy to be a part of inclusive classrooms, but they used to be funded at a higher level, so they got more support," she said. "They used to get more EA time in the classroom and more service from specialist teachers. It used to be under our old contract that we had a limit of three special needs students per classroom, and now that limit has been removed."

What that means for MacNaughton, she said, is she now has four children who are designated special needs and only two of those students receive any EA, educational assistance, hours.

"There's nobody inside the classroom serving the needs of the other two except for me, and this is in a class of 28 kids," she said. "I just feel like I'm putting out fires all day long. I rotate amongst the children in the classroom who can't work independently, which leaves very little time to have conversations about learning with the rest of the class."

She added, they value the kids, but need more funding.

Also frustrating is the partial lockout by the BC government on Monday. It means teachers can only be in school 45 minutes before and after the end of the school day and they are locked out at lunch and recess.

"Since Monday , we've lost 10 per cent of our wages because we're not doing supervision in the morning," said MacNaughton. "But half of our staff has already done all of their required supervision hours. So we're being penalized for something we've already done."

MacNaughton said teachers leave Oliver Elementary at recess and lunch, mostly just walking across the street and hanging out there.

"It makes it tough to get our job done and to prepare for the next class, when we are locked out," she said.

She said she also hopes the situation can be resolved by the end of the school year, so they are not locked out at the end, which is currently three days for high school teachers and one for elementary.

"We also don't want this hanging over us at the start of the next school year, which is an exciting time for teachers and kids," she said.

Teachers in other districts in the Okanagan, were on strike earlier in the week.

Next week School District 53 will be on strike Thursday, June 5.

For a full list of the school districts on strike next week read our full story here.

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