“The aims of it are to improve student safety, increase public confidence and transparency around disciplinary and other processes, and ensure we build a foundation for a more mature, respectful and constructive relationship – not only with the (BC) Teacher’s Federation – but among all the educational partners,” said Education Minister George Abbott in a press conference yesterday.
The legislation follows a report relased last year by Don Avison – a lawyer and fomer deputy miniter of education – who was appointed by the provincial government to conduct the review of the BC College of Teachers after members of the College’s Council wrote a letter to the former education minister requesting the review. Of the 20-member BC College of Teachers Council, eight members were appointed by government and 12 were elected, usually among members of the BC Teacher’s Federation (BCTF). The College had been criticized for being too heavily influenced by the BCTF, and Avison found that the Council had lost credibility as an independent body.
The new legislation seeks to dissolve the College and replace it with a new British Columbia Teacher’s Council that will set standards for teachers with respect to conduct competency and certification, as well as have the authority to approve teacher education programs for certification purposes. The new council will be made up of 15 members – three teachers from the BCTF; another five teachers – each from a different region of the province – elected by their peers; and seven members based on nominations from seven educational organizations (see the sidebar item).
It will also include one non-voting representative from the Ministry of Education who will report to the minister.
Abbott acknowledged public school teacher’s can still form a majority on the new council, but he said he believes that is appropriate and his hope is that the council can be the foundation for a new, more respectful relationship between the government, public school teachers and other education partners.
“That is deliberately part of the structure here,” he said. “In my view, given that B.C.’s public school teachers comprise 73 per cent of the total teachers and others who will be subject to the processes of the council, I felt it appropriate that they have at least a theoretical opportunity to form a [majority].”
The government would still retain the ability to vet the non-elected members.
A nine-member Disciplinary and Professional Conduct Board will be established with members from the Teachers' Council, and include four members of the BCTF. The government will appoint a commissioner to receive complaints and reports about alleged teacher misconduct, conduct preliminary investigations and, where appropriate, assign members of the board to hold disciplinary hearings in three-member panels. Those panels will not include more than one BCTF member.
The panels will have jurisdiction over fitness, conduct and competence and will have the power to revoke, suspend, grant or impose conditions on teaching certificates. Those panels will also have the ability to conduct their hearings in public, which has provoked concern from the BCTF about teacher’s careers being ruined even if allegations of misconduct are not true.
“I think transparency is a good thing,” Abbott argued. “I think it’s important the public understand what is at the heart of disciplinary issues, and I think this is part of the process of building public confidence.”
However, he added in-camera hearings would be possible if deemed necessary.
The legislation has been criticized from both sides. The BCTF put out a statement stating while they welcome the new clarity around the role of the Teacher’s Council, they see the voice of teachers being diminished on the new council. They also take issue with Avison’s report, saying the allegations that the BCTF used its influence on the Teacher’s College to protect unethical teachers is “completely unfounded,” and that the government has yet to investigate any of the cases cited in the report.
On the other side, the BC Conservative Party has blasted the Liberal government for not doing enough to limit the influence of the BCTF on teacher oversight and discipline.
Abbott said the criticism from all sides seems to indicate his government struck the right balance with the legislation.
The legislation mentioned above comes as the BC Public School Employers’ Association (BCPSEA) and the BCTF negotiate a new collective bargaining agreement, and as the government and teachers negotiate a response to the overturning of Bill 28 by the BC Supreme Court. Abbott said he doesn’t believe the new legislation will impact either of those negotiations, though he added “minimal progress” has been made to date at the bargaining table to date.
He also commented on the BCPSEA’s application to the Labour Relations Board to have report cards declared as an essential service, saying he believes it is imperative that parents be informed on how their child is doing in school.
“I don’t believe it is fair, appropriate or acceptable for parents – three months in, four months in, six months in, or even months in – not to know how their child is doing in school,” said Abbott.
However, teachers’ unions maintain report cards were always understood to be part of the administrative duties teachers would not be carrying out under the current job action, and has never been an issue in previous collective bargaining negotiations. They also insist teachers are still communicating with parents in other ways.