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Nanaimo teachers' union criticizes class composition report

A report listing all classrooms in Nanaimo school district that are over provincial size limits or have more than three special needs students in them fails to tell the true story of what is happening in schools, says the teachers' union.

Superintendent Dave Hutchinson gave school trustees the report last Wednesday.

Of 333 elementary classes, one has more than 30 students and 46 have more than three students with individual education plans. Of the 796 secondary classes, 95 are over the size limit and 152 have more than three students with special needs.

Derek DeGear, president of the Nanaimo District Teachers' Association, said he believes that number of classes with more than three special needs students is higher because there are about 250 fewer students with designated special needs this year than last year.

A provincial audit conducted last February found that students were put in the wrong designation category or a piece of evidence was missing from their files or their designation was outdated.

When designating students this fall, schools were more careful, which resulted in lower than expected numbers and fewer supports for teachers.

"It wasn't like we had a bunch of students who were magically cured of their issues," said DeGear. "Those needs are still present."

The report also lists all of the oversize classes.

"There's definitely more detail than the official class size report that goes to the [Education Ministry]," said DeGear.

But he still believes the report is inadequate because it fails to give each oversize class a separate rationale for why it's over the limit.

The union is on its third attempt to take its issues with the superintendent's class size report to an arbitrator.

Teachers believe a line in the report stating classes over size or composition limits are "appropriate" for student learning does not take the place of guaranteed supports for each student, added DeGear.

Hutchinson told trustees at last week's board meeting that many of the oversize classrooms were only one or two students over the limit.

"I'm confident that these classes are worked out in the best way possible and that they are appropriate for student learning," he said.

The report has been referred to the education committee for further discussion.

 

Meanwhile, talks between the province and the teachers' union over a remedy to problems the Supreme Court identified with provincial legislation regarding classroom size and composition have broken down.

Last spring, B.C. Supreme Court Justice Susan Griffin ruled that parts of the 2002 legislation that removed certain working and learning conditions clauses, such as limits on class size and the number of special needs students in each class, from teachers' collective agreements violated teachers' rights to freedom of association under the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

The two sides have been discussing a remedy to the court ruling at a separate table while contract negotiations continue.

The province is offering to create a class organization fund, worth $165 million over the next three years, which would target classrooms with the highest needs and could be used to provide extra teaching staff or education assistants.

The B.C. Teachers' Federation is seeking a restoration of working and learning conditions in place before 2002, to be included in teacher collective agreements.

"Clearly the Liberals believe teachers' rights to bargain and students' rights to quality classroom conditions must be sacrificed to management's right to reduce thousands of teaching positions in B.C.," said BCTF president Susan Lambert in a press release.

In an e-mailed response, Education Ministry George Abbott said he's "extremely disappointed" that talks broke down, but the court has given the province a deadline to resolve the issues and that government would have to begin preparing corrective legislation by the end of November.

"What the union is now suggesting would require as much as a 50-per cent increase in the number of teachers in B.C. at a cost of more than $1 billion to resolve this matter," he said. "As a result, we find ourselves at an impasse."

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