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The laid-back lifestyle of BCs Southern Gulf Islands has taken a hit this year, thanks to the Islands school boards introduction of the four-day school week. However, the spirit of the communities that make up the Southern Gulf Islands is well represented in a local group organized by parents and supported by CUPE local 788 and CUPE BC.

Known as the Keep Five Alive Coalition (KFAC), the group has been working since June to encourage the Islands school board to reverse course and return to the five-day school week. KFAC has petitioned the school board and organized rallies in front of board offices, written letters to government and, just last week, held a forum to educate parents on the perils of the four-day school week. The group has set up a website (www.keepfivealive.ca), developed a bumper sticker and produced leaflets, as well as promoting CUPE BCs website as a useful research tool on the four-day school week.

Opening the September 13 forum, local parent, poet and publisher Mona Fertig said the four-day school week represents a paradigm shift. When such a major change hits a community, said Fertig, it should be as a result of hearing the vote and voices of all the people. And the research must be flawless. Unfortunately, she added, there has been little consultation with parents anywhere in B.C. where such changes have occurred.

Guest speakers at the forum included CUPE BC president Barry ONeill and BCTF president Jinny Sims, as well as a former school trustee, a local municipal politician, a parent and a researcher/educator. ONeill spoke of the importance of pressuring the government to increase its support of public education in British Columbia. Middle- and lower-income parents must not remain silent as private and independent schools continue to receive significant public funding, he said.

Those schools will be lining up to entice even more parents to send their children (and their public school financial allotments) to the private system where they can get five days of school every week, said ONeill. And who can blame them, when the government is making it so easy to use public tax dollars to fund (them)?

According to CUPE research, the $156.8 million spent on independent schools operating expenses in 2002-2003 is expected to climb to $186.3 million next yearrepresenting an increase of nearly $30 million in three years. Since the 2002-2003 school year, B.C. has been plagued with calendar changes. While some rural districts have chosen the four-day school week to avoid other cuts in services, other districts have reduced the number of school days in a year. Neither change is based on sound academic practice.

For many CUPE members, the four-day school week and other calendar changes have amounted to wage and benefit rollbacks of up to 20 per cent. For students, the reduced time at school means more homework and less support. According to a survey conducted by the Coast Mountains school board, four-day school weeks mean more non-educational television and video games for students on Friday afternoons.