While Bulkley Valley schools are shut down this week for spring break, the School District 54 – Bulkley Valley (SD54) board of directors is preparing to vote on adoption of the 2021-2022 calendar.
The draft calendar once again features a one-week spring break, which has become somewhat controversial because 54 of 58 school districts in the province enjoy a two-week break.
Matthew Monkman, SD54 assistant superintendent, headed up the development of the 2021-2022 draft calendar.
“The District wishes to preserve the number of Instructional Days in the school calendar (has targeted 181 minimum days for schools to be open to students),” he said.
“In a year with a later Labour Day we are restricted to the number of days available as the BVTU (Bulkley Valley Teacher’s Union) contract has the Tuesday following Labour Day as their first work day.”
Matthew Cooke, BVTU president, said the majority of local teachers favour a two-week break, but they are not prepared to be responsible for making it happen.
The union was presented with a resolution, he said, which involved moving a NID (professional development) day from within the school year to before Labour Day that would allow for the creation of a two-week spring break, but the members voted against it.
The reason for the rejection was two-fold, Cooke said.
For one thing, the teachers’ collective agreement sets the school year as the day after Labour Day until June 30, which would mean breaking the contract.
But primarily, he explained, they did not feel it was right for teachers to shoulder the burden of making the decision for all the various stakeholders including parents, students and employees who are members of other unions.
“It’s massively inappropriate for the BVTU to be put into a position to make a decision for all other stakeholders,” he said.
A public meeting is scheduled for March 23, at Smithers Secondary School where COVID-19 protocols will allow for trustees, the public and press to safely attend.
“The formulation of school calendars is a complex process where a great many factors are considered,” Monkman said.
“The district, as a part of normal practice, has conducted a public consultation to inform its decision about the 2021-2022 school calendar. That feedback (including any comments about a two-week spring break) will be considered when the school board convenes for its public meeting March 23.”
Chief among the factors considered is provincial legislation setting the minimum number of annual instruction hours for students. Those minimum hours are 853 for Kindergarten, 878 for Grades 1 to 7 and 952 for Grades 8 to 12.
Cooke noted that, while the BVTU understands the complexity of the process, the vast majority of school districts, all of which are bound by the provincial regulations, have found a way to make a two-week break work and doesn’t see why SD54 can’t.
He said in terms of instruction days, SD54 has been averaging 185 over the past several years.
“The provincial average is 177.5, so how is it that the provincial average for the days schools are open and kids are in desks can be 177.5 and somehow our district is unable to make 180 school days work?” he said.