Friday, June 27, 2014

Morbid Summer School Ruling by LRB

The British Columbia Government and BC Teachers Federation are in the midst of a labour dispute that is trying to unpack 12 years of cuts and contract strips related to class size and compensation, an impasse on compensation, and resulting actions from both sides including a gov't lockout and a teacher strike. The latest issue is whether Summer School should continue.

I've just read the recent ruling by the deciding body, the Labour Relations Board (LRB), on whether Summer School is in fact an Essential Service in BC. Take a quick look at this short summary from the Langley Teacher's Association and the actual interim ruling, especially 2.a.1:

The interim ruling says that Summer School must be offered, and run by administration if possible, but only applies to Gr. 10-12 students who have failed a required course and can't take it again in the following year. Unfortunately, that pretty much excludes all (living) students in BC.

Given that any student can return to school, even after Grade 12, and that every district offers required courses in every school year (either at a local school or through a Distributed Learning Centre), the only students to whom this applies are ones who will not be alive in the following school year or plan on being physically or mentally incapacitated between the end of summer school and the beginning of the next school year. I suppose it would also apply to students who plan on being out of the province for the entire year without access to the internet for an online version of a required course, or can't receive mail from one of our regional correspondence centres. So, dead, incapacitated, or missing -- truly a morbid set of criteria to lay on students.

I sure hope the interim in their interim ruling means "we'll throw this out there for starters and see what happens next." The imprecise language might cut it for a hasty press release or impromptu media interview, but not a legal ruling that needs to hold up to precise, literal application. This reminds me of how Government negotiator Peter Cameron described the bizarre and contradictory lockout notice for teachers as a "living document" -- subject to interpretation and changing emphasis on a daily basis. This was the lockout notice that both banned and encouraged voluntary duties, and was used to justify taking 10% off of teachers' wages. That is, until they brought it to the LRB where the employer argued that it's own lockout didn't justify the 10% deduction, it was the services withdrawn by teachers. These services amount to less than 2% of our paid time at work.

Way to go LRB, Minister Fassbender, Mr. Cameron, and the BCPSEA team. You've taken a silly notion -- that Summer School is somehow an Essential Service in BC -- and managed to make a macabre joke out of it. I guess there is a logic to it... "Essential Services" usually refer to life-and-death duties in society. Apparently Summer School is a life-or-death decision for students -- if they attend, it means that something unfortunate will happen to them before the new school year starts that would prevent them from taking courses. If you follow the LRB logic, that is. Maybe this is an end-run around the "optics" of who is responsible for the inevitable cancellation of summer school in most districts -- it is no longer essential or necessary to operate if the rules exclude virtually every student in the province.  With a number of logic-defying restrictions in the order, it will be impossible for school districts to pull it off, and thus they can cancel summer school and avoid the head-ache. Beyond that, I can't imagine why the LRB would goof up on their wording on such a basic point -- an essential service designed for no one in particular, at least no one who will be alive enough to attend in September.

Next up: the LRB will no doubt rule on students who are both dead and plan on returning -- Zombie Summer School (thanks @_MrsBarb for the idea). Between the "living document" lockout that was not a lockout, the dumbed down exams that were still somehow essential, and now the "Fawlty Wording" that excludes virtually every student in BC from Essential Summer School (the "undead document?"), it's hard to see where the LRB ends off and Monty Python begins.


  1. Such grave insight deserves accolades. Bravo.

  2. Thank you for this - I had a good chuckle. In the face of such absurdity, all we can really do is laugh...

  3. Anonymous3:23 AM

    You made my middle of the night !!!

  4. I made the suggestion that politicians, like any person employed in a position where important decisions are made that impact people and society, should be adequately trained, qualified and able to effectively perform the job. It appears to me that these individuals are not.

    1. Anonymous9:36 AM

      Fully agree! Teachers have qualifications, why not politicians? In Germany, most politicians have a PhD. Definitely not in the past, and they saw where that got them.

  5. Anonymous9:43 AM

    Is there any sanity left in this province? A complete gong show. Peter Factbender and Christy need to get there act together now.
    Thanks for the insight Bill.

  6. Anonymous10:02 AM

    My district doesn't even offer summer school, so I'm wondering if this ruling will force them to offer this "essential" service.

  7. Love this! So ridiculous!

  8. Anonymous12:57 PM

    Mouth hanging open, shaking my head. As Anonymous said above, " Is there any sanity left in this province?"

  9. Anonymous3:26 PM

    My Contribution to the BC Summer School Fiasco, as ordered by the Labour Relations Board, By Carol Topalian
    Basil Fawlty handling the summer school registration phone:

    BF "Hello summer school."
    student: "Well I'd like to sign up."
    BF"Are you deranged?"
    student: "What?!!"
    BF "Are - you - de-ranged?! Disabled?"
    student: "No. What? - I want to sign up for summer school."
    BF "Dead. You're not dead."
    student: "Of course I'm not dead. Look, I want to finish school."
    BF "Planning to finish are you?"
    student: "Yes, as soon as possible."
    BF "Theoretically, if you were, alive, in the fall, would you study?"
    student: "?? Yes, of course!"
    BF "AAHHAA! Not disabled! Not deranged! Alive, and now this! Another weasel in the trap!"
    student: "This is outrageous! I'm emailing your supervisor."
    BF "Not so fast, ambitious weasel. This proves you have INTERNET!"
    student: "Of COURSE I have internet! Who doesn't?"
    BF "Anyone who takes summer school in British Columbia. That's who.
    Now get out!!

    BF (to self) Must remember to call the local cemetery to check there for prospects. Right.

  10. Ok I'm laughing hard now... A that was truly awesome.

  11. Anonymous6:28 PM

    Hahahaha. Good one.

  12. Anonymous7:43 PM

    LOVE it. The whole thing is such a farce. I wish Jon Steward would do something on this for the Daily Show. It would get some good laughs.

  13. Since 2001, when education was declared an essential service, I have been waiting for one of those magnetic flashing lights that I can whip out my driver's car window and put on the roof of my car and magnetically mount on the roof. "Out of my way! Move over. I'm a teacher. I can't get stuck in traffic. I'm an essential service."
    Then I thought I could also paint TEACHER backwards on the hood of my car, so that anyone in front of me would know to move over to the right to let me by.

    1. Jack MacD8:41 PM

      Great stuff, Barb

    2. Anonymous6:06 PM

      Haaaaa! Let's get decals, Barb! Dave Harper

  14. Anonymous10:25 PM

    So - if this ruling doesn't prove that the LRB is nothing more than another tentacled arm of this deceitful government, I don't know what else to say...this also proves how little CC and FB actually understand of the system they purportedly "run". Hmmmph.

  15. Anonymous11:23 PM

    Apparently, lifelong learning just isn't ambitious enough anymore. Learning can continue even beyond the grave!

  16. Wow. And you teach our kids?? What a mess...

  17. Cousin Lois2:39 PM

    Glen, thanks for injecting some humour into a grim situation!

  18. Mr. Maarhuis, I've read some of your tweets and I encourage you to expand your 'political nerd' horizons beyond Liberal talking points. Before you conclude that Glen is a crazy teacher, perhaps you should meet him or, at the very least have a conversation with him. You seem to think that teachers are not allowed to have a sense of humour or to be creative thinkers, otherwise you would have realized that Glen is attempting to inject some humour into a completely absurd situation. Yes, it is a mess, but teachers did not create it.

  19. Thanks R.A.N.
    I think Maarhuis probably gets the humour and he will do what he does... he is as bound to his self-declared POV as most teachers are to theirs. I only hope he is able to shift positions and take on new perspectives when presented with new evidence that he finds convincing. Same for all of us.

    I would challenge him, though, to find the logic in the LRB decision that hamstrings SDs by excluding virtually all students. He is also welcome to enter my teaching world for a bit... it is pretty much on display on this blog and the student blog, and my website.

    From Maarhuis' tweets (and apparent disdain for the quality of work being done by his child's kindergarten teacher), I sense he needs to move beyond generalizations about public education and build a more mature and nuanced view of the services performed. I also wonder about his understanding of public services; he seems to think that society as we know if can exist without taxation. I for one do not want to see education do down the Walmart path -- ever more efficiently produced, lower costs, quality not especially important. Our education system has many problems, and many areas where cost savings could be found, but that is something that is largely outside teachers' control. What we can affect (because it was in contract) and what will cost some money, are the working and learning conditions in the system we do have.

  20. Your satire soothes my soul!