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Teacher Newsmagazine Volume 17, Number 1, September 2004

Teachers’ right to inform parents about cuts affirmed

In the fall of 2002, teachers around the province used a card to show parents the changes in the size of their class since the B.C. Liberals removed class-size limits from our collective agreement. Some school administrators and boards told teachers they were not allowed to share that information with parents during parent-teacher interviews. We received a ruling from arbitrator Don Munroe that states that teachers not only have the right to distribute those cards, they have the right to discuss any information regarding the state of public education in the province with parents during parent-teacher interviews. According to Munroe’s ruling, teachers do not have a duty of loyalty or fidelity to the provincial government. Munroe has upheld a provincial grievance filed by the BCTF on November 6, 2002, and determined that attempts by school boards to prevent teachers from using school bulletin boards, parent-teacher interviews, and other means to advise colleagues and parents of the union’s and its members’ views with respect to class size and bargaining matters are violations of teachers’ rights to free expression under the charter.

In holding that the boards were interfering with teachers free speech and that such interference was not justified in a free and democratic society, arbitrator Munroe wrote:

[T]he posting of the subject bulletins or flyers on the teachers’ bulletin boards, or the handing out of the "cards" at parent-teacher interviews, would in no way interfere with the effective and efficient operation of a school; and neither would it result in loss of instructional time or other educational disturbance. There is no suggestion in the Alleged Actions that the intended communication by the teachers, either as to form or substance, would in any degree have impaired the performance of their duties as teachers.

I make this additional point. The common law duty of fidelity owed by a teacher, and arising from his or her employment, is a duty owed to the School Board employing that teacher. A teacher does not owe a duty of fidelity arising from employment to the provincial government. To the extent the expressive content of the materials intended by the teachers to be posted or otherwise communicated was aimed at the provincial government, the duty of loyalty or fidelity has no application.

This award is a significant victory for teacher (and employee) free speech, and it should give school boards pause in attempts to use their power as employers, on behalf of BCPSEA and the provincial government, to suppress the voices of teachers and teacher unions on educational matters.

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