Cranbrook teachers in the Southeast Kootenay School District have won a significant victory in their dispute with the local school board over FSAs. An arbitrator has found that the board clearly violated the teachers’ and their union’s freedom of expression by denying them the right to communicate with parents about the FSA—a standardized test given to Grades 4 and 7 that teachers oppose.
The dispute arose when the board refused to allow Grades 4 and 7 teachers to send a BCTF pamphlet critical of FSA, home with their students. Arbitrator John Kinzie found that the only reason the board refused the communication was because it happened to disagree with the content. That was not a good enough reason. Teachers are permitted to communicate factually accurate information to parents.
Not only did Kinzie find the board’s actions “…had the effect of infringing upon their freedom of expression under section 2(b) of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms.” He also ordered the board to change its behaviour toward teachers, writing: “I direct the Employer not to interfere in this manner with its teachers’ freedom of expression concerning FSA testing in the future.”
Chris Johns, president of the Cranbrook District Teachers’ Association, was delighted with the decision. “We said all along that communicating with parents was not only our right but our duty as teachers. We were confident that our freedom of expression would be upheld. We expect the board to comply with the ruling and not interfere again in this manner.”
BCTF President Irene Lanzinger was gratified by the decision. “The right and duty of teachers to communicate with the parents of their students is so fundamental it’s hard to imagine a more important relationship.” Lanzinger says she hopes that boards around the province get the message, too. “Cranbrook was not the only location where such interference took place. This ruling should apply everywhere teachers wish to communicate with parents.”
Lanzinger also pointed out the irony of the decision coming as it did the day after the provincial government moved to stifle teachers’ freedom of expression in new election spending legislation. “This legislation—Bill 42—makes it almost impossible for us to campaign before and during an election on the important issue of education. It is a direct attack on democracy.” While an arbitrator was confirming teachers’ constitutional right to communicate with parents, “…the Campbell government is moving to silence teachers.”