03/16/2012 04:48 EDT | Updated 05/16/2012 05:12 EDT

B.C. grad ceremonies threatened by teachers' job action

There is growing concern among B.C.'s high school students that the next stage in the teachers' contract dispute could threaten their extra-curricular activities — including graduation ceremonies.

On Thursday the government passed legislation suspending any strikes by the BCTF, but teachers are still threatening to stop volunteering for extracurricular activities

Ann Whiteaker, the president of the B.C. Confederation of Parent Advisory Councils, says school sports, field trips and grad nights could all be affected.

"Parents are expressing concern, especially our Grade 12 students," said Whiteaker.

She says students have waited years for their grad night, an event which normally counts on teachers volunteering a lot of their own time to help organize.

"It's about the planning, the booking of the centre, the figuring out, getting all the students in line so they can get onto stage.... making sure they've got a cap and a gown."

Then there are school sports, where teachers often coach as well as getting students to events.

"What we may see is the cancellation of some of our programs and events in school competitions."

Education Minister George Abbott says if teachers choose to stop extracurricular activities, that is their choice.

"They may choose to be coaches or participate or support other extracurricular activities and that's something we should celebrate, but we can't demand it of teachers any more than we can demand it of lawyers or doctors or anyone else in the world."

The teachers are expected to vote on their next steps in the contract dispute over the weekend at their annual general meeting.

No common ground

Whiteaker is urging all the parties in this dispute to find common ground and search for solutions, but none of the parties involved in the negotiation appear hopeful.

Abbott said that when he took his post as education minister, he was hoping to change the long-running, negative dynamic between the government and the teachers — but he just couldn't do it.

"I take no pleasure at all in being the latest in a long line of education ministers who have had to utilize the Legislature to move a dispute along with the BC Teachers Federation."

Over the past 30 years, there has only been one successful contract settlement in 2006, when teachers and the government signed a five-year deal that included a 16-per-cent wage increase and a signing bonus worth about $4,000 for each teacher.

Abbott has said he will appoint a mediator acceptable to both sides when he returns from a trade mission to China later this month.

But B.C. Teachers' Federation vice president Jim Iker also doesn't have high hopes for the mediated settlement process either.

Iker says the union will likely pass along suggestions for the independent third party mediator, but says the situation remains unfair because that person can't offer anymore than what the government has decided to give — and that's net-zero.

Opposition New Democrats are also predicting that the B.C. government will end up legislating yet another contract with the province's 41,000 teachers.

Education critic Robin Austin says he expects mediated talks to fail, after which the Liberals will impose their will on educators.