Chaotic start at schools on strike

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Public school students all over the country, except in Oslo, were facing a chaotic start to the new school year this week as the full effect of a major strike by teachers kicked in. The strike was due to expand from Thursday, when anther 2,200 teachers would be called out of their classrooms.

Teachers all over Norway, like these in Drammen, were in fighting spirit over the weekend and ready to remain on strike when school was supposed to start. PHOTO: Utdanningsforbundet Drammen

Teachers all over Norway, like these in Drammen, were in fighting spirit over the weekend and ready to remain on strike when school was supposed to start. PHOTO: Utdanningsforbundet Drammen

The strike actually began in June, but only one school in Bergen was symbolically targeted because the summer holidays had already begun. A total of 36 teachers at the Rothaugen School in Bergen were called off the job.

As the summer passed with no progress in settling the strike, more schools were targeted, bringing the total up to 5,500 teacher at 132 schools from Fredrikstad in the south to Alta in the North. After attempts at mediation broke down again last week between the teachers and their local government employers, the main teachers union Utdanningsforbundet, announced that the strike would spread from Thursday, when another 2,200 teachers at an additional 69 schools are due to be called off the job.

Several of the smaller teachers’ unions also announced plans to target more elementary schools, which had been shielded from the strike, meaning that more than 100 other teachers would walk off the job as well.

Lack of information
The chaos Monday morning was being blamed on the teachers’ local government employers, for distributing confusing information about which schools and classes were actually affected and which students would thus be sent home. The city and country officials remain in charge of operating the schools and in Hordaland County in western Norway, for example, students were sent text messages informing them if their school was among those affected by the strike. If so, however, they were told that they still had to show up for classes even if their teachers or classes were on strike. Otherwise they’d risk losing their registered enrollment at the school.

They weren’t told whether their teachers or classes were affected, though, meaning they’d likely  be sent home. That made it difficult for both the students and their parents to know what they’d be doing on Monday.

“Even if there’s a strike at their school, they (the students) still need to report personally for school to confirm that they have been registered there,” Svein Heggheim, county director of education in Hordaland, told Norwegian Broadcasting (NRK). “Registration continues as normal, whether there’s a strike or not.”

There are 50 high schools in Hordaland, for example. At 12 of them, 442 teachers are on out strike. Students in classes that were supposed to be led by teachers who are among those on strike would likely be sent home, while other classes were to begin as planned until the strike spreads.

Loss of confidence
Administrators were using websites like bergen.kommune.no/streik (external link, only in Norwegian) to update students and parents about the effects of the strike but complaints of poor or confusing information were rolling in. The situation was expected to worsen as the strike wore on and spread.

The teachers, who rejected their own union’s settlement with the local government employers’ organization KS last spring, are mainly striking to retain their rights to plan their own workdays. While KS wants them to be physically present at school for 7.5 hours a day, the teachers want the flexibility to take work home with them and prepare for classes as they see fit.

The biggest complaint now, however, is what teachers perceive as a loss of confidence from their employers. Both sides have warned the strike may be lengthy. Oslo schools opened as usual on Monday, however, because both sides there negotiate separately and came to terms in May.

newsinenglish.no/Nina Berglund