ATA says UCP’s teacher discipline changes would ‘politicize’ process

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The Alberta Teachers’ Association is slamming the UCP government’s plan to overhaul the province’s teacher complaint and discipline process as a “massive power grab” that opens the door to political interference.

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ATA president Jason Schilling said Wednesday that after analyzing Bill 15, which was introduced in the legislature last week, he believes it would give the education minister too much influence over the teacher disciplinary process and foster an “adversarial” culture in public education.

If passed, Bill 15 will create the office of a teaching profession commissioner, appointed by cabinet, as well as an overhauled complaint process. The ATA, which represents 46,000 teachers in collective bargaining, would be stripped of its current disciplinary function. The new commissioner would oversee all Alberta teachers and teacher leaders, like principals.

“The design of the new system, from the bottom to the top, is very susceptible to political influence, and the entire disciplinary process is at risk of being politicized,” Schilling said.

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“Teachers are completely excluded from establishing those who will adjudicate and govern the profession.”

ATA executive secretary Dennis Theobald repeated concerns the ATA has raised about “deprofessionalizing” teaching by taking away their role in holding their colleagues to account.

“Right now, the association uses considerable resources and credibility to prosecute teachers,” he said.

“Under the new model, it is entirely likely that we would take those same resources and we’d be using them to defend those teachers. And that would be our obligation.”

In a statement, a spokeswoman for Education Minister Adriana LaGrange countered that it’s the ATA making the change a political issue, not the government.

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“The goal is to have one legislative structure to govern matters of discipline for the teaching profession, by one organization, using a consistent, effective and efficient process,” Katherine Stavropoulos said.

Stavropoulos said Bill 15 doesn’t “significantly” change the education minister’s authority, and the future teaching profession commissioner will be recruited through an open competition before being confirmed by cabinet.

The minister already has the final say on penalties for teachers found guilty of unprofessional conduct or professional incompetence.

Theobald said the ATA wants to work with the government to improve the teacher discipline system. But ATA legal counsel are also looking at Bill 15, and if it passes without amendments, he said there are “a number of serious weaknesses in it that could leave the minister open to legal challenge.”

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The legislation also affects school superintendents and deputy superintendents in Alberta. The College of Alberta School Superintendents (CASS) was poised to begin regulating their conduct this fall, but under Bill 15, complaints against them would also go through the new commissioner.

CASS executive director David Keohane said it essentially puts them back to status quo.

“We’re very comfortable working within that because that was our original arrangement all along,” he said.

Keohane said CASS will maintain its role ensuring its members can meet specific competency expectations.

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Twitter: @meksmith

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