June 25, 2014 12:09 am

Parents try to save B.C. grad ceremonies

Stock photo.

Muharrem öner / Getty Images

VANCOUVER – One mom is arranging the flowers, another created a program, a third produced a slideshow pairing baby photographs with present day snapshots.

Almost everything is in place for the graduating Grade 7 students to cap their year — but one core element will be glaringly absent.

The striking teachers of Henry Hudson Elementary School in Vancouver were instructed by their union not to attend the makeshift ceremony. Instead, someone will read out a statement of congratulations from the teachers on their behalf.

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“I started talking to my daughter, she said the girls bought their dresses months ago,” said parent Robert Ford, whose daughter will attend the off-site, parent-driven ceremony with about 24 other students on Wednesday.

“Whether the union is right in telling them not to do this, I have a problem with it. … I guarantee you, there are a lot of upset kids.”

The hastily rescheduled event at a Vancouver community centre is one of many examples of how parents have joined forces to salvage their children’s school year as a strike of British Columbia’s public school teachers stretches into a second week.

Along with the uncertainty around report cards, there is also confusion about next year’s enrolment, while money generated by student fundraisers, in some cases, has been unilaterally held back for next year’s students, Ford said.

By Tuesday, the tumult provoked school trustees to urge the sides to immediately resume bargaining and prompted the Vancouver School Board to hold an emergency meeting to plan next steps.

Teresa Rezansoff, president of the B.C. School Trustees Association, sent a letter to the teachers’ union and the government’s bargaining agent, urging them to commit to non-stop, face-to-face bargaining until a settlement is reached.

“There are no winners right now,” she said in an interview, noting both parties had already mutually agreed to mediation, so why not allow teachers to return to the classroom for a final day. “Let’s try to create some type of opportunity or win for students so they can at least close out their school year with teachers.”

Instead, the BC Teachers’ Federation and BC Public School Employers’ Association were discussing who to bring in as mediator after the union’s first choice, Vince Ready, declined due to a scheduling conflict.

Patti Bacchus, chairwoman of the Vancouver School Board, said the board planned to hold an urgent meeting Tuesday because it’s concerned “there aren’t the right conditions that would attract a mediator.”

In addition to the contract bargaining gulf, Bacchus cited as unhelpful comments from Premier Christy Clark as she spoke to a reporter in Dawson Creek on Saturday that she would be “surprised if there would be a mediator, a credible one, who would be prepared to take it on.”

The bitter situation is having a negative effect on morale, while public confidence in schools is rapidly waning, added Bacchus.

“Obviously, many, many students are affected by this terrible year end and now this real mess with the exams,” she said.

Over 70,000 senior students across the province were writing exams on Tuesday as part of essential services designated earlier by the Labour Relations Board.

Bacchus criticized the government for guaranteeing critical exams would be marked without a concrete plan for carrying the process out, noting that school boards were not consulted.

“They … never figured out that there are not enough qualified people to mark them properly,” she said, adding a switch away from essays to primarily multiple choice tests is “appalling and not fair to students.”

Ford isn’t sure if his daughter is prepared for Grade 8, and he can’t even ask the question.

“Can I talk to the teacher effectively? No. Will the teacher even be at the school next year? Don’t know. Who knows. We have no information,” said Ford, who is also the head of the school’s Parent Advisory Council.

“Excuse me? At what point was this an acceptable level of education in a First World country?”

The provincial government is set to impose a full secondary school lockout for Wednesday and Thursday, which will extend to all schools on Friday.

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