Teachers and students in British Columbia's public school system are set to begin classes on Monday, following the end of a bitter, months-long strike.

Parents breathed a sigh of relief after the province and teachers’ union reached a deal last week amid the job action, which kept 500,000 students out of the classroom for five weeks.

More than 40,000 teachers hit the picket lines in June, bringing an early end to the 2013-2014 school year. The strike also delayed the start of the current school term by nearly three weeks.

Schools and the province said they will deal with the problems that may arise from two shortened school years.

Education Minister Peter Fassbender said classes will not be extended to make up for lost time. However, provincial exams may have to be rescheduled, he said.

Senior students applying to attend college or university say they are concerned that the delayed school year start has left them at a disadvantage.

“As a senior student talking with my friends and classmates, there’s such a huge sense of worry in terms of, ‘Will we get our applications in on time?’’ said Jing Wang, a Grade 12 student at Vancouver’s Prince of Wales Secondary . “Even if we get our applications in, how would we be looked at compared to students in other provinces?”

Wang, who is also a Vancouver school board trustee, said she is also concerned about making the October deadline to apply for scholarships.

But some universities say they will work with the province to sidestep any challenges.

“The University of Toronto will not disadvantage students who cannot present the usual required documents for reasons outside their control,” university spokesperson Dominic Ali wrote in an email to The Canadian Press.

McGill University said it is also adjusting admittance for students who missed classes in June due to the strike.

The new deal

An agreement between the teachers and the province seemed far off three weeks ago, as mediated talks fell apart at the negotiating table over Labour Day weekend and the first day of school on Sept. 2 was cancelled.

The strike was further prolonged when the B.C. government rejected a call for binding arbitration. A few days later, talks quietly resumed at the bargaining table.

Last week, the province and the B.C. Teachers' Federation announced a six-year contract which includes:

  • A 7.25 per cent salary increase
  • Improvements to extended health benefits
  • Improvements to the teaching-on-call rates
  • $400-million education fund to hire specialist teachers
  • $105 million for retroactive grievances over 2002 class-size negotiations

Approximately 46 per cent of the school support staff have also signed deals for a 5.5 per cent wage increase over five years. Those staff members who have not signed an agreement are hoping to reach one by November.

Last Thursday, 86 per cent of teachers voted to accept the agreement and return to work, effectively ending the longest teachers’ strike in B.C.’s history.

In some areas, school may begin on Tuesday.

With files from The Canadian Press