Last Updated: Friday - 09/24/2010
Week of October 4, 1999
School lockout draws criticism
Calgary schools reopen one day after board locks out teachers
By ANH HOANG
WCR Staff Writer
The city's Catholic students were back in the classrooms one day after they and their teachers were barred from the schools in what some called the most drastic decision ever made by an Alberta school board.
More than 43,000 students stayed home from school Sept. 27 when the school board unanimously voted to serve lockout notices after negotiations with the Calgary Catholic local of the Alberta Teachers' Association hit an impasse.
The lock-out was the first of its kind in Alberta history. It was short-lived as school doors opened and it was business as usual the next morning.
"What the board had to weigh and measure was . . . what could be a prolonged work-to-rule situation or a short-term lock-out," said Linda Wellman, the board's chairperson.
Wellman admits the board's decision may have been drastic, but claims it would have been a harsher blow to education had the board agreed with the teacher's work-to-rule campaign.
Since the beginning of the school year, teachers refused to perform voluntary services, such as coaching and running after-school programs, in an attempt to back their demands for a new contract.
"We were trying to secure the quality of education for the future," Wellman said. "We're making sure that our students get the professional teaching services . . . that this is provided to them when they need it. We were looking at this down the road . . . we can't just think of today, but all our tomorrows as well."
Prior to the agreement, Mike O'Brien, president of the Calgary Catholic local of the ATA called the lockout appalling.
"The trustees mean to cut off education to the very people who elected them, the Catholic community of Calgary," he said.
The two sides reached a tentative agreement Sept. 27. Negotiators had been locking horns on the issues of preparation time and use of substitute teachers.
"I think it's fair to say that the collective agreement reached . . . meets the needs of both parties," Wellman said.
Annie McGrath, a stay-at-home mother, told the WCR she cared for her neighbour's two school-aged children and her own fourth-grader during the lockout. She had not been following the negotiations, but was upset when she heard about the lockout.
"I wasn't even sure what it meant," said McGrath, whose son attends St. Patrick's Elementary School. "Then they said something about closing the schools because the teachers and school board had a contract dispute.
"I was really angered by the fact that they would keep all these children home because they can't agree on something. That's kind of childish."
McGrath is relieved that it turned out to be a one day lockout. "But who's to say this won't happen again whenever contracts come up."
Carole Standard added, "They've done it (lockout) once. It means they can do it again. This is something else we have to look out for now when it comes to our education system."
Standard's son attends Bishop Grandin High School. She said he wasn't worried about missing a day of school - "he actually enjoyed the long weekend."
Standard didn't worry too much about the one-day lockout either, but ponders what it could mean for the future.
"What happens when the next lockout lasts one week, then one month. Who's to say it couldn't be one year," Standard said. "That's my biggest concern.
"And the funny thing is both the school boards in the city here aren't exactly on loving terms with the public.
"So it isn't as if I could send my children to the other school (system) because I don't like this one. They (public school system) don't even have a school board for Pete's sake."