SD43 social media campaign goes ahead
School District 43 trustees are staying the course on a public education campaign to urge a resolution to the B.C. public school teachers' dispute and will post messages on the district's Twitter account —and even stand on street corners and wave signs — if a deal isn't reached soon.
The campaign "SD43 putting students first" comes as the Sept. 2 start date for school reopening looms under what appears to be a media blackout for the labour negotiations.
Some critics are saying the campaign is not needed and too expensive for a district that has laid off hundreds of employees to deal with a financial crisis but those criticisms have board chair Melissa Hyndes fuming.
"Why shouldn't it make a difference? Should we walt for other people to take a leadership role?" Hyndes told The Tri-City News. "Why not the Coquitlam board of education? We are leaders at the school board.
"The board unanimously supports this campaign because something needs to be said and some kind of pressure needs to be placed on both parties."
Messages were posted starting Monday morning on the district's Twitter account (@sd43bc) using the hashtag #back2schoolsept2 and more will be done, including a sign campaign, if a deal isn't reached soon, said the Port Moody trustee.
"People are anxious out there they want to get their kids in school," Hyndes said. "It could be detrimental to vulnerable families and vulnerable kids."
She also disagreed that the campaign is an election ploy as voters go to the polls to elect trustees and city councils on Nov. 15.
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"The election is a long ways off," she said, noting that the expenditure for a communications consultant is small, less than a month's salary, and "well within the budget" because funds are coming out of superintendent Tom Grant's budget as he's currently also doing the job of a communications manager who retired. And there are no plans to buy newspaper ads, contrary to what an SD43 representative told The Tri-City News last week.
Instead, she said, trustees hope the media will pick up on the campaign while other districts and parents join in to put pressure on the negotiators.
But Dave Ginter, president of CUPE Local 561, which represents SD43 support staff, said he doubts whether the campaign will make any difference to negotiations that have been virtually at a standstill for several months.
"Do these trustees believe the government or the teachers take direction from trustees?" Ginter asked in a letter to the editor.
Charley King, Coquitlam Teachers' Association president, took a different view. He said he thinks the trustees' campaign is more balanced than those of other provincial bodies because it doesn't put all the blame on teachers.
"What I'm really pleased to see locally is the board realizing that everyone is in the same boat," King said. "We're all looking for a way out. We're all looking for a resolution."
Chuck Denison, chair of the District Parent Advisory Council, said he didn't think the campaign could do much because of the huge barriers to a settlement, including disagreements on how to handle class size and composition before a court appeal is heard on the issue.
"I think it's wishful thinking," Denison said. "I'm not sure there's any real meat in that but I wish the initiative the best."
He said he'll attend an emergency meeting of the BC Confederation of Parent Advisory Councils, which is concerned school openings will be delayed unless an agreement can be reached by Aug. 25.
But Hyndes said that's not an issue in SD43, where school buildings are already prepared to accept students and could open immediately, although there may be some concerns about timetables for students who failed a course and couldn't retake it because the strike cancelled summer school.