Teachers expect smaller classes following Supreme Court decision

Derek DeGear, president of the Nanaimo District Teachers’ Association, will never forget the 2002 school year.

It was the year the province passed legislation removing certain working and learning conditions clauses, such as limits on class size, the number of special needs students in each class and specialist teacher ratios, from teacher collective agreements and ended the teachers’ right to bargain these issues in future years.

The move had an impact on DeGear’s workload – in 2001, he was teaching a Grade 5/6 split class of 26 students. The following year his split class had 33 students.

“It was one of the lower points in my career,” he said. “To me, [class size] was a fundamental working condition that we felt strongly about being able to bargain.”

Last week, B.C. Supreme Court Justice Susan Griffin ruled certain parts of this 2002 legislation violated teachers’ rights to freedom of association under the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms and were unconstitutional and invalid.

She gave the province one year to remedy the situation and deferred the issue of any additional remedies to a further hearing.

DeGear believes the decision will mean a return to the class size and composition limits included in the NDTA’s collective agreement before 2002 and improved learning conditions for Nanaimo students as a result.

He expects the province to provide the district with more money to hire the additional teachers needed to return to those limits.

“We’ve been waiting and hoping to see an improvement and I think this may be a turning point,” he said. “I think it’s a victory for teachers and students.”

When Bills 27 and 28 were enacted in 2002, DeGear said they included class size limits, but they were not as stringent as the limits the teachers had bargained in previous years. In 2006, the province passed Bill 33, placing limits on class size and the number of special needs students, but these limits could be exceeded in higher grades as long as a consultation between a teacher and school principal took place.

DeGear said Nanaimo now has the highest secondary class size average in the province.

Mike Munro, Nanaimo school district’s superintendent of schools, said the Griffin decision could result in some different practices, but it is too soon to say what might change.

Teachers’ contracts expire in June, but districts and the Public School Employees Association will continue negotiating using the current legislation, said Munro, although this could change depending on the province’s response to the court ruling and how long it takes to hammer out a new collective agreement.

“For now, we have to work with the legislation we have,” he said. “[The province] might very well alter things entirely.”

Education Minister George Abbott said in an e-mailed response that the province will look at the judgment closely in the coming weeks before next steps are determined.

 

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