Teachers unhappy about Justice’s decision

The Nanaimo teachers' union is unhappy a Supreme Court judge decided not to clarify a ruling made last April.

The Nanaimo teachers’ union is unhappy a Supreme Court judge decided not to clarify a ruling made last April that found provincial legislation violated teachers’ rights.

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, violated teachers’ rights to freedom of association under the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms and were unconstitutional and invalid.

She gave the province a year to remedy the situation.

This week, Griffin refused the B.C. Teachers’ Federation’s request that she provide further clarification of her April decision.

Derek DeGear, president of the Nanaimo District Teachers’ Association, said the union and the province have different interpretations of Griffin’s ruling and the union had hoped for a clearer understanding of the ruling this week so that this difference could be rectified.

“What I read clearly is there was no reason to remove [the working conditions] from the contract, you have a year to put it back in,” he said. “The government feels they just need new, improved legislation.”

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.

DeGear said the B.C. Teachers’ Federation will continue asking the province to put the limits back into teacher contracts because the union is seeking guaranteed support for all children rather than a fund that could see schools competing against each other for limited resources.

“We are going back to the table to see where we can get,” he said.

Sharon Welch, school board chairwoman, said the outcome of this situation is a matter that greatly concerns trustees because once a decision is made, it will likely have major impacts for the district.

Nanaimo trustees have written to the Education Ministry asking that if class sizes are reduced, districts are given additional funding to implement these changes, she said.

“We don’t know what’s going to happen and we need to wait and see how it all pans out,” said Welch.

Education Minister George Abbott said the province is pleased with Griffin’s prompt decision and with the BCTF’s decision to resume consultations with the province regarding a remedy to the legislation.

“I believe we have a responsibility to B.C.’s parents, students, and teachers to resolve this issue in a timely fashion in order to move forward with our shared goal – to lift up what is already a great education system and make it exceptional,” said Abbott in an e-mailed response.