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B.C. Conservative plan to increase Surrey classroom sizes sparks concern

Party leader John Rustad promises to hire more teachers, increase classroom sizes if elected
Portables at Lena Shaw Elementary. (Sobia Moman file photo)

A B.C. Conservative campaign promise to deal with overcrowding in Surrey’s schools falls short for the city’s teachers, who are calling it “regressive.”

On Monday (Feb. 26), Conservative Party of B.C. Leader John Rustad released his plan, if elected, to tackle Surrey’s public school issue of overcrowding. To eliminate portables, Rustad says his party will increase the number of students in classrooms for K-12, with a “strict condition” that the teacher-to-student ratio will be maintained or increase.

Portable classrooms in Surrey are nearing 400 throughout the district, which is the province’s largest.

“For 32 years, the NDP and BCU-Liberals have treated people in Surrey and the Fraser Valley like second-class British Columbians. It’s wrong and it’s going to end here,” Rustad said in a press release.

For the Surrey Teachers’ Association (STA), the Conservative party plan reminds them of the 1974 teacher strike, which fought to reduce classroom sizes.

During the time, classroom sizes were going to be increased, so teachers in Surrey walked out and headed to the B.C. Legislature in Victoria, on Feb. 15, 1974. As a result of the strike, classroom sizes were reduced and the STA recently marked the 50-year anniversary of the success.

“You’d have to go back to the 1970s. You’d have to ignore a whole bunch of things for that plan to even begin to be feasible. You’d have to ignore our 21st century curriculum and what the learning outcomes for students actually are and what teachers and schools are expected to do,” first vice president Lizanne Foster told Peace Arch News, noting class sizes have continued to be an issue since.

“At that time, the thinking was that students are just these empty vessels and all you did was store them with information and your classrooms did not have students with learning disabilities because those children were separated and segregated in schools.”

The union representative added that teacher contracts limit the number of students allowed per classroom to 30 students. If a class exceeds that number, then the educator is supposed to be provided remedy by a teacher-on-call.

She said that Rustad’s plan is not following trauma-informed teaching practices in her opinion, and will therefore impact students’ learning environments negatively.

“The B.C. Conservatives have been supportive of anti-public education rhetoric. They are supportive of anti-SOGI protests, they are completely out of touch of education. Public education is a social justice project, it is meant to provide equity and fairness and justice in society,” Foster said.

Rustad said in a Sept. 20, 2023 statement that he would abolish SOGI 123 if elected, claiming to “stand with parents” a few days later, in a Twitter/X statement where he compared residential schools to SOGI.

RELATED: B.C. Conservative leader compares gender education to residential schools

Rustad also promised to end the district’s move to an extended day model for some high schools, saying that he experienced it when he was a secondary student and it “sucked.”

“Conservatives will increase or maintain the teacher-to-student ratio by hiring more teachers, as needed, in Surrey and throughout B.C. No teacher will lose so much as one day’s pay because of this policy, and no student will lose one-on-one time with their teacher,” Rustad states in his press release.

For the STA, this promise does not sound realistic.

The union says that educators have been leaving the profession for some time now due to low pay and poor working conditions.

“I would like education and children prioritized by government, because it’s not… If it was, the money would be there. We have inclusive education in theory but not practice,” Foster said.

- with a file from Jane Skrypnek

Sobia Moman

About the Author: Sobia Moman

Sobia Moman is a news and features reporter with the Peace Arch News.
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