In the News April 9
Defending Public Education in Alberta
Teachers Demand Bill on Teacher Professional Discipline Be Withdrawn
The Alberta government introduced Bill 15: Education (Reforming Teacher Profession Discipline) Amendment Act, 2022 on March 31, 2022. Bill 15 is the government’s latest attack on teachers and public education.
With this legislation, the Alberta government would take control over matters concerning teacher conduct and teacher competence for all teachers in the province. The Alberta Teachers’ Association (ATA), which represents all teachers in public, separate, and francophone schools, has been responsible for hearing allegations of teacher misconduct for 87 years. Presently, any individual can make a complaint against a teacher. When this happens, the ATA appoints an investigator, meets with everyone involved, and if there is a reasonable basis to suspect unprofessional conduct, conducts a hearing. Hearings are public, formal, and resemble court appearances. In these matters, the role of the ATA is to defend the public interest. The ATA’s stand is that education is a public good and the ATA defends that by defending the profession. Teachers are responsible for their own defence and are not represented by the ATA. Similarly, anyone can lodge a complaint with the ATA regarding teacher competence, although school boards are also empowered to deal with matters of competence, like any employer.
Education Minister Adriana LaGrange introduced the bill, saying that the legislation will “reform the discipline process for all teachers and teacher leaders to make the education system safer for students, their families, and teachers. Bill 15 would create the Alberta Teaching Profession Commission and appoint a commissioner to oversee teacher and teacher leader conduct and competency complaints for the profession.”
The legislation was first unveiled at an embargoed news conference on March 31. The ATA was not permitted to participate in the briefing and received no information about the contents of the bill prior to its tabling in the Legislature.
By claiming that students are not safe so long as the ATA is responsible for professional conduct, LaGrange continued her vitriol and revenge-seeking against teachers and her attacks on public education. These attacks include a reactionary, retrogressive, and ridiculous new curriculum, refusal to make schools safe during the pandemic, and anti-worker laws to suppress collective discussion and action on matters of concern to teachers.
The ATA responded, “The minister is introducing a system that consolidates and concentrates power in her hands. The minister will have unilateral powers to hire and fire the teaching profession commissioner, appoint both teachers and public members to sit on hearing committees, and establish the Code of Professional Conduct. Even then, the minister has no obligation to respect the outcomes of the process. She would be able to dismiss complaints, issue reprimands and even cancel certificates, whether or not it is the recommendation of the hearing (or appeal) committee.”
“The process that the ATA has established [for discipline] is transparent and accountable,” ATA President Jason Schilling said. “It stands in stark contrast to the secretive and unaccountable process that the minister has maintained in place for private and charter school teachers and superintendents who have been regulated directly by the government – this hardly inspires confidence in a process that will be run by the government and answerable only to the minister.”
“It is appalling that the government would choose this time to make this attack on teachers. Teachers are exhausted, and they feel completely abandoned in their efforts to manage the pandemic in schools and do what’s best for their students,” the ATA says.
The pretext for Bill 15 is an unfounded allegation that the ATA failed to do its job in a 15-year-old case involving a Calgary teacher who was removed from teaching in 2006 and charged with sexual assault in 2021. In a press release issued in December 2021, announcing that she would be introducing legislation to strip the ATA of responsibility for professional conduct and competency, Adriana LaGrange accused the ATA of failure to protect students from a predatory teacher by failing to report a case of sexual assault to the police. “As the Minister of Education, I consider it my moral obligation to do everything in my power to fix the broken system that has let our children and their families down for so long,” LaGrange stated.
A record of the hearing is available online. The facts show that the ATA upheld all its responsibilities, acted based on the evidence it had at the time and ensured that the teacher was removed from the classroom. The ATA provided a full report to the Minister of Education, in which it noted that the RCMP was aware of concerns about the teacher. LaGrange has refused to explain why, if evidence of a criminal offence existed at that time, the Minister of Education at the time did not inform the police.
Is the Minister of Education completely ignorant of her responsibilities? If not, why is she providing false information claiming that it is the responsibility of the ATA to revoke a teacher’s certificate, and that a teacher given a penalty of suspension by the ATA automatically returns to teaching when the suspension lapses.
Both these assertions are wrong. In order to teach in a public, separate or francophone school district, a teacher must hold membership in the ATA. The ATA has the authority to suspend a teacher’s membership following a disciplinary hearing, and once suspended a teacher is terminated, and a “permanent mark” placed on their record. The ATA also has the power of expulsion, which is much more common in serious cases involving students, but only the Minister of Education can revoke a teaching certificate. The ATA informed that in the past 100 years, only one teacher has successfully returned to teaching after suspension – and they were suspended for an unpaid fine.
When the ATA completes an investigation, a recommendation is made to the Minister of Education about the teacher’s certificate, because certification rests with the minister alone. If the minister does not act, a teacher may continue to teach in private or charter schools, where the ATA has no jurisdiction.
The government is also claiming that hearings are conducted in secret, and that there is no public record of teachers whose membership has been revoked. In fact, hearings are open to any member of the public who wishes to attend, and the ATA already maintains an online record of hearings into unprofessional conduct.
The ATA points out that Premier Jason Kenney has been clear about his aim to deprive teachers and their association of a say and responsibility for all matters concerning teaching as a profession, to advocate for the right to education, and to carry out their responsibilities in the classroom without fear of persecution, unwarranted discipline, and harassment by governments hell-bent on imposing their “values.” Shortly after being elected, Education Minister Adriana LaGrange tried to create a moral panic about teachers indoctrinating children with an “anti-oil and gas” agenda. The only “evidence” she produced showed the exact opposite, teachers encouraging students to investigate matters for themselves, examine different opinions and draw their own conclusions.
Other aspects of this agenda include removing teachers from curriculum development and the preferential treatment being accorded private and charter schools, where teachers are prevented by law from being members of the ATA. On any front, maintaining safe schools in the pandemic, establishing optimum class sizes, and many other issues facing the educational system, the role of government has been to block the solution of problems and refuse to provide the right to education with a guarantee. There is no doubt that it is teachers who are upholding the interests of kids, whose learning conditions are teachers’ working conditions, and the public interest.
Teachers have received zero support from government in their efforts to do what is best for students during the pandemic. Everything they have accomplished has been in spite of government, not because of it. They have been treated with contempt and been subject to dictate, arbitrary decisions, wild swings in the policy to contain COVID-19 without scientific evidence to inform decisions, and denied the right to participate in decision-making. This situation is unsustainable.
In standing up for the honour and dignity of their own profession and their right to participate in decision-making, teachers are defending their rights, the rights of their students and the interests of our society. Teachers have responded with a mass mobilization which has already forced the government to slow down implementing its retrogressive curriculum. By continuing to step up our resistance, to speak in our own name, to present our concerns publicly and connect with all those forces engaged in defending public education, we will be a force to be reckoned with. Bill 15 must be withdrawn!
Workers’ Forum, posted April 9, 2022.