Surrey and Delta weigh in on tentative start of school year

SURREY — With teachers expected to vote on a tentative deal Thursday, Surrey and Delta school districts are gearing up for a much-delayed start to the school year.

“We’re just focusing on getting as much information as we can so we know what to expect,” said Surrey district spokesperson Doug Strachan. “The schools are ready to go, we could have students in classrooms tomorrow if that was possible, but obviously there has to be a few processes to play out yet.”

According to Strachan, it’s unclear when they might be able to return to work should teachers accept the agreement.

“Theoretically it’s possible there could be a decision by the union to return to work on the Friday but that would depend on stipulations in the agreement,” he said.

Additionally, Strachan said the district would have to look at possibly moving a professional-development day scheduled for Monday, Sept. 22 if that day is to be the agreed-upon start of the school year around the province.

“If it’s apparent that school opening day would be affected by that, then we would be looking to speak to our teachers’ union local about moving that professional development date,” he said.

As for a timeline on when that decision would be made, Strachan said they weren’t putting a fixed deadline on that, but that the district was “mindful of the needs of parents to know what plans to make.

“At this point we advise parents to be monitoring the media as well as the district’s website,” he said. “The superintendent has been pretty diligent in posting letters to parents on the website within an hour or so of any significant decisions or developments and that will continue.”

In Delta, school board chair Laura Dixon said she found out about the tentative agreement via Twitter at 4:10 a.m. Tuesday.

“I’ll say this, I’ve lost a lot of sleep through all of this,” she said, chuckling. “So, it’s on my mind and I tend to wake up in the night and check on the progress.”

Dixon said there are still some items to work out in the new contract but both sides were convinced they were far enough along that they could announce the tentative deal. Mediator Vince Ready was reportedly scheduled to leave on an 8 a.m. flight to Toronto to deal with another dispute, which was one of the reasons both sides held marathon talks into the wee hours of the morning.

If all systems are go on Monday, Dixon said Delta’s schools will be ready to open for the new school year. She said principals have been working hard throughout the work stoppage to keep in touch with families to ensure any registration issues or course changes won’t be an issue.

But Dixon said there are always unforeseen details with the start of classes.

“Since this is the start up of the year for this particular labour action, what we don’t know is, have there been families that have moved into the area, have there been families that have departed?”

Dixon said the school board will explore whether there’s maneuvering room to make up for some of the lost time due to the strike, particularly looking at what impacts the delay of the school year may have had on at-risk youth or students with special needs.

“But that’s a conversation yet to come,” she said.

Delta district’s professional-development day is scheduled for Friday Sept. 19.