School District 57 has canceled recesses for children throughout the district.

The BC Teachers Federation initiated their first stage of job action on Wednesday April 23, after voting 89 per cent in favor of a strike in early March. During the first stage, teachers are not to participate in supervision of students outside of regularly scheduled classes.

Following the announcement from teachers, Prince George School District #57 announced April 22nd that recess would be cancelled. A letter to parents and guardians from Brian Pepper, Superintendent of Schools for the district, says during stage one, the supervision of school grounds and bus loading areas will be carried out by management and other exempt staff of the district. “This also means that recess will not take place until further notice,” says the letter.

Principals Dan Kenkel of Valemount Secondary and Derrick Shaw of McBride Secondary say schedules for their schools have not changed due to the cancellation of recess. Schedules for Valemount Elementary and McBride Centennial have changed slightly, with classes starting seven minutes later and ending eight minutes earlier.

Not all school boards in the province have cancelled recess.

Sarah Holland, Chair of the district’s Parent Advisory Committee, says she has mixed feelings about cancelling recess. She understands that it does take time and often a fair bit of travel for administrative staff to supervise students, and they are also busy trying to prepare an annual budget.

“However, I also think that recess is very important to our kids,” says Holland.

Holland says the Essential Services Designation Order, issued by the Labour Relations Board for this strike action, lists the services teachers must continue to perform. She says she is not clear on what the phrasing in the order – around using “management and excluded staff to the best extent possible” – actually means, or what level of discussion took place in the district.

Tina Cousins, President of the Prince George District Teachers Association, says she was told on Tuesday morning in a meeting with Pepper that recess was canceled, and says there was no discussion about it.

Cousins says teachers often cover recesses in rural areas, or they are covered by CUPE Education Assistants. She says administration could have continued with recess, they just had to exhaust their list of administrative and exempt staff before using teachers.

“Safety of our students is very important to all of us.”

Cousins said if there was a shortage in supervisors available for recess, teachers would have covered. “The bottom line is administrator inconvenience.” She says they’ve chosen not to disrupt the work day of administrators and other staff by canceling recess, and only 12 districts in the province have made the same decision.

The BC Supreme Court ruled in early 2011 that the government’s Bills 27 and 28 of 2002, which stripped teachers’ bargaining rights and guarantees for class size and support for students with special needs, were unconstitutional. The government was given a year to reinstate bargaining rights and 2002 levels for class size and composition. In 2012, the government introduced Bill 22, which prohibited teachers from bargaining on issues like class size and composition and staff levels, and imposed a two-year wage freeze. The BCTF filed court action in June 2012 over the government’s failure to address the Supreme Court’s ruling, and the government announced in February 2014 it would appeal.

Under the current stage one, teachers are also not to attend meetings with management except health and safety committees, are not to communicate with administration other than verbally, or be at the school more than one hour before and after instructional time, other than for pre-arranged voluntary activities.