As public school teachers across the province voted this week how to respond to the government's back-to-work legislation and potentially withdraw extracurricular activities such as sports and graduation ceremonies, one East Side P.E. teacher says he will not halt the programs he runs and will not stop coaching.
A yellow sign taped to a gymnasium door at Van Tech secondary reads "Intramurals Cancelled," but the same day he and his colleagues cast ballots, Mike Allina handed out an indoor soccer ball to a group of boys dressed in blue and yellow pinnies.
"I will continue to coach," he said. Allina runs the senior girls soccer program at Van Tech and is also the president of the Vancouver Secondary Schools Athletic Association, the organization responsible for setting schedules, securing referees and hosting playoffs.
Vancouver public school leagues will operate with a minimum four teams. Allina expects some spring sports leagues will be cancelled.
The VSSAA sent a letter to all school athletic directors Wednesday to determine what school teams will have a coach or teacher sponsor and which will compete in the spring league.
"As VSSAA president we have asked teachers to make up their own minds," said Allina. "We have said this is nothing the VSSAA controls. We're asking you to use your discretion to do what you feel and if you feel you want to withdraw, you do it. If you feel you want to coach, you do it because that's what you feel."
Spring sports include girls soccer, juvenile and bantam boys volleyball, badminton, golf, rugby, senior girls softball, tennis, ultimate and track and field.
"If people want to come, they will come; if they don't want to come, we shut it down. There is no pressure from us, the VSSAA, to participate or to not participate," said Allina, who started his teaching career at Van Tech in 1989 and returned this September after teaching at Point Grey.
"A lot of districts have parents in place to handle the situation. We will have to cancel some, I'm sure."
A teacher's decision to withdraw the extracurricular work he or she does is voluntary. The government's Bill 22 prevents teachers from striking and threatens job action with hefty fines, including up to $475 a day for a teacher. That daily fine soars to a minimum $2,500 if the teacher is a union representative.
Susan Lambert, the president of the B.C. Teachers' Federation, outlined in a letter to union members, "This ballot is not for a full-scale withdrawal of services."
Ceasing extracurricular activities was decided "reluctantly," she wrote, but "is a measure of the gravity of the situation."
Lambert urged teachers to vote in favour of the action plan, appealing to the collective's ability to send a unified message.
The vote doesn't strike Allina with a sense of urgency. Because he's not voting for a complete withdrawal of service or a full-scale walk-out, which would be illegal under Bill 22, his personal decision to continue to volunteer as a coach is an easy one to make.
He fears for the short-and longterm viability of public high school life and culture. Following job action in the last decade, Allina noticed a decline that, in some cases, crippled school sports so that some Vancouver programs have still not recovered.
"Yes, I felt that. Schools have rebuilt. [John Oliver] is one that has rebuilt tremendously through the efforts of their athletic director and their coaches and teachers. Other schools that got hit very hard [-] have never really climbed back up."
He said private and independent schools, which operate on a different mandate than the city's public school district, may exacerbate any detrimental impact if sports programs are shuttered for the spring season.
Although Allina is neither feeling nor putting pressure on other teachers and coaches to make a certain decision, the stress is certainly felt by others.
At an outdoor, after-school practice earlier this month, one Vancouver school coach would not speak about a sports team and the pending season or be photographed in a team picture.
The coach said, "I'm a teacher and it's pretty sensitive these days. A lot of teachers have withdrawn their volunteer activities because of the job action."
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