||Volume 16, Special Issue, September 2003
College targets teachers
by Mike Lombardi
On May 30, 2003, the B.C. Liberals passed Bill 51 legislation that significantly altered the Teaching Profession Act. The dramatic changes the B.C. Liberal government imposed through Bill 51 indicate that they intend to follow the disastrous direction set by Ontario’s Tories.
The B.C. Liberals have now taken political control of the College of Teachers. The new council of political appointees gives government, parents, and management representatives control over the affairs of the college. It now reports directly to Minister Clark. In the event that the college does something the minister doesn’t like, the minister has the statutory authority to disallow any by-laws of the college.
In B.C., teaching is no longer a self-regulating profession. Our profession is the only profession that does not have a majority of its governing council represented by elected members.
In a heavy-handed move, the minister included provisions in the legislation that require teachers to report on colleagues’ professional misconduct. The legislation requires any member who "has reason to believe that another member is guilty of professional misconduct" to "promptly provide to the registrar a written and signed report on the matter." The minister’s appointees will attempt to define reason to believe, guilty, and professional misconduct. The requirement also applies to former members who still hold certificates, and is required even if the belief is based on privileged information or is confidential and forbidden from disclosure by other legislation.
Parents and other members of the public are encouraged to file complaints about teachers directly to the college. This will undermine professional autonomy and is in direct contradiction to school-district policies that spell out procedures for resolving parental concerns. As is the case in Ontario, the new complaints process will escalate and prolong problems. It only gives the illusion of problem solving.
Teachers, through the college, will no longer have any influence in the approval of teacher-education programs. The advice and experience of the teacher practitioner, through the college, will no longer be included in the design and development of teacher-education programs.
The political appointees on college council, including parent representatives, will run the college and spend the money, but teachers will pay the fees. As in Ontario, the college fee likely will rise dramatically.
Bill 51 could destabilize public education by creating an atmosphere of conflict and rancour in the system. It is an attempt to silence teachers from criticizing the disastrous education policies of the government, such as education underfunding and school closures.
The appointed college council is very eager to implement the agenda of the B.C. Liberals. On June 3, 2003, the transitional college council held its first meeting in secret. This was the first time in the college’s history that a public meeting was not publicized and open to members and the public.
At the first public meeting, held on June 12–13, 2003, all 20 political appointees were present. The council identified priorities for consideration at the summer meeting of the council.
At this meeting, the political appointees voted themselves a per diem of $250, to be paid by the college instead of by the government.
At the summer meeting of the council, appointed members of the B.C. College of Teachers Transitional Council met at the Whistler Mountain Delta Suites Hotel during the week of August 18–22, 2003. Each of these political appointees will receive $1,250 ($250 per day) plus expenses for attending the week-long meeting. Four of the five days of meetings were conducted behind closed doors. While working behind closed doors, the appointed college councillors developed a strategic plan for implementing the directions of Bill 51. In a three-hour public meeting on August 22, 2003, the appointed councillors rubber-stamped the many decisions that were reached behind closed doors.
At the summer meeting, the college adopted a strategic plan for 2003–04 that includes the following goals:
- Facilitate complaints by parents and the public.
- Process complaints more quickly.
- Force teachers to continuously requalify and recertify by establishing continuing-education requirements.
- Expand communications with parents and the public.
- Establish standards for the education, professional responsibilities, and competence of members.
- Strengthen the technological capabilities of the college.
- Review the budget and fees of the college.
The following key decisions were also made/announced at the summer meeting of council:
- Doug Smart is no longer the registrar for the BCCT. Marie Kerchum is now the acting registrar.
- The registrar will be sending a letter to TOCs and school districts about college fees. The purpose of the letter is to discourage members from participating in the BCTF’s Bill 51 strategy.
- The college council is recommending that the government of B.C. make more changes to the Teaching Profession Act. These changes are intended to assist the council in achieving its agenda.
- The minister is being advised to use the eight health-region zones for the first elections of the council of the BCCT and encouraged to ensure that administrative officers and other management representatives are appointed to the council.
- The council adopted 80 pages of by-laws and policies regarding member discipline with less than 15 minutes of discussion.
The College of Teachers must not be used as an instrument for the government to attack teachers or to undermine public education. Over the next few months we can expect more government actions directed against teachers.
The ministry will be watching to see how teachers respond to Bill 51. If we allow Bill 51 to be implemented without any united teacher response, it is likely that the B.C. Liberals will see this as an invitation to implement more anti-teacher initiatives. A united response by teachers will send a clear message to government. As the people who understand the needs of students and the importance of educating children these days, we have a responsibility to stand up for our chosen profession.
As in the past, the BCTF will provide political, legal, and financial support, as necessary, to any member who may face disciplinary action as a result of participation in a Federation-approved strategy.
If teachers stand united, we will be successful in convincing the government to change the legislation so that the college will once again become a democratic, self-governing profession.
Mike Lombardi is an assistant director, BCTF Professional and Social Issues Division.