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Essential service?

BC's half-a-million public school students got a two week jump on their holidays, but they could still end up cracking open the books for summer school.

As the teachers' strike and lockout drags on, their employer has asked the BC Labour Relations Board to ramp up its essential services order.

The BC Public School Employers' Association has asked the board to compel teachers back to the classroom for summer remedial programs, for students in custodial facilities and hospitals and for students in year-round schools.

The governments' bargaining arm has said for weeks it will end its lockout so teachers can hold summer school, while BC Teachers' Federation president Jim Iker has so far refused to say what edict it will give union members, aside from respecting the specifics of any labour board ruling.

A hearing has not yet been set for the matter, while teachers meantime will be swapping their "on strike" signs to read "locked out" today after the government implements its planned shut down of schools for the next three days.

Collective bargaining is not planned for today, although the two sides say they will engage in "exploratory talks" in order to discuss a "way forward" that includes the union's call for a mediator.

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