North Vancouver teacher running 22 marathons in 22 days to protest B.C. education bill
Running 22 marathons in 22 days across B.C. is no easy feat, says North Vancouver teacher Ian Cunliffe, but every mile is worth it if he can bring more attention to Bill 22, the B.C. government’s Education Improvement Act.
The bill’s name is misleading because it “slashes funding to the bone” rather than improving education, Cunliffe says, speaking to The Outlook by phone at a pit-stop on day two of his grueling 1,000-kilometre run. Steadily following Highway 3, he left Fernie that morning on his way to Jaffray, a village 47 kilometres east of Cranbrook.
With just the second day of 20 completed, the Canyon Heights elementary teacher and librarian knows his muscles will start to give out close to the finish line in Vancouver.
“I feel it’s my professional responsibility to tell people the devastating effects Bill 22 will have on our education system,” says Cunliffe as he winds down from his day spent running up and down steep hills in the Kootenay region.
While running six hours each day, often in scorching heat through rough terrain, will be challenging, Cunlifffe says it’s an easy price to pay for the kids he teaches.
“Private schools have record numbers on their wait lists, and there’s a reason for this. We have a great public system; what we don’t have is funding. I hope people will realize the public education system needs more.”
Cunliffe says his top worries about Bill 22 are that it erases limits on class size, doesn’t guarantee support for special needs students or set a number for how many special needs students are in a class.
“[Special needs] students are really neat kids, they’re just great, but they have challenges and need support,” says Cunliffe, overwhelmed with emotion, adding that he has taught many unforgettable children with learning challenges.
“Teaching them takes up a lot of my time, and really takes away from the other students.”
Before Bill 22 was introduced, a maximum of three special needs students could be in a classroom at a time, says Cunliffe, and class size was reduced by one for each student. But, he adds, the Education Improvement Act does away with this, making students suffer.
Another part of Bill 22 — one of the biggest problems in the eyes of the North Van teacher — abolishes the limit placed on the number of students in a class, forcing teachers to handle more kids at one time.
“It’s difficult to teach in a way that’s manageable. We’ll end up just giving them work books to keep the class in control, which definitely isn’t a good way for kids to learn.”
Cunliffe is afraid more parents will start sending their children to private schools, if they can afford it, while others will be forced to put their kids to public schools that “just limp along.”
For much of his teaching career Cunliffe has been frustrated by funding cuts. More than $3 billion has been taken away from the education system in just 10 years, he says, forcing libraries to cut back services and counsellors to be in charge of up to 1,200 students at a time.
But Cunliffe, talking on his phone 1,000 kilometres from home, says something can be done about the problem, and not everyone has to go on a province-wide marathon.
“Call your elected officials and let them know how important public education is to you, and that they need to do something about it to get your vote.”