Seven-year-old Bernadette Patterson-Ott can sum up how she feels about not being in school with one word: “Sad.”
The Semiahmoo Trail Elementary student had been looking forward to getting back to school this month.
“I really want to go into Grade 2 because I want to learn how to write,” she said Thursday, as she stood barely a stone’s throw from the South Surrey institution’s front doors.
Bernadette and her brothers – one ready for kindergarten, the other in preschool – were among current, future and past Semiahmoo Trail students to meet under the late-morning sun Thursday to put pen, pencil and felt to paper to show their support for teachers.
“I love going to school I wish the strike would stop,” reads one letter, written to Premier Christy Clark by eight-year-old Ruby.
Seven-year-old Ethan’s request to the premier was similarly straightforward: “I want to go back to school, can you sit and talk?”
Teachers across the province have been on strike since mid-June. Last week, they voted in favour of ending the job action if the B.C. government will send their dispute to binding arbitration – a move Education Minister Peter Fassbender swiftly rejected.
“As we have consistently made clear, binding arbitration would lead to unacceptable tax increases in this case,” Fassbender said shortly after the vote results were announced Wednesday. “That’s because the two sides remain too far apart on wages and benefits.”
Fresh hope for mediated talks came Friday, with news that both sides were in preliminary talks with veteran mediator Vince Ready, but as of Peace Arch News press deadline Monday afternoon – the fourth day of talks – neither side was commenting publicly on progress.
While many adults have voiced opinions in recent weeks, Thursday’s effort was about letting the kids express their thoughts on the matter, said mother Amy Patterson.
Patterson said her four-year-old son, Wolfgang, “asked who he could complain to” about not being able to start kindergarten.
“So I said he could write letters,” she said.
“Other parents were realizing their kids wanted to have a voice, too.”
Emma Pflanz, 12, said she came out in support of her mom, Natalie, an ESL and learning-support teacher at Semiahmoo Trail.
“She used to have only five or six kids a day, now she has five or six kids a lesson,” Emma said. “(Teachers) are fighting to get smaller classes, so each kid could get more help. I know for a fact a lot of kids in my class would benefit from having a helper.”
Natalie Pflanz said her caseload has gone from 12 kids a year to 100 a year since 2002.
“(Before), they got hours a day. (Now), they get maybe half an hour, four times a week,” she said.
Teachers Gay Hawley and Jacqueline St. Cyr said community feedback they’re hearing has been more supportive as the issues are better explained. One parent who came by the school’s picket line last Tuesday with grocery gift cards for the teachers noted her children attend private school, St. Cyr said.
“This was her way of saying, ‘I see you.’”
St. Cyr said she trusts that if the two sides go to binding arbitration, “a third party will see the truth, “noting the job action has been a strain, both emotionally and financially.
“We are struggling. Our own families have been affected. We have people that say, ‘well, that’s your choice.’ But if we don’t stand up for what is right, who will?”
In all, 31 letters were written Thursday: 20 to Clark, 10 to Fassbender and one to Surrey-Panorama MLA Marvin Hunt.