Cranbrook, BC—The BC Teachers’ Federation strives to keep class sizes and class composition within the limits of the School Act. However, thousands of classes province-wide continue to exceed the legislated limits and therefore teachers have been forced to launch grievances to redress the situation. An arbitration hearing slated to resume in Cranbrook tomorrow and continue until February 25, will have an impact on the thousands of classes that remain in dispute throughout BC.
More than 400 classes from 2006–08 are still outstanding. An additional 4,600 classes from the 2008–09 school year and 5,000 from the 2009–10 school year also exceed the limits in the School Act.
In 2002, after the provincial government passed Bills 27 and 28 removing class-size and composition provisions from teachers’ contracts and prohibiting school districts and teachers from negotiating them, class-size limits were written into the School Act. The Act limits Kindergarten classes to 22 students, and Grades 1–3 to 24 students. Grades 4–7 are capped at 30 students, but this limit can be exceeded if the teacher consents and if the principal and superintendent of schools believe “the organization of the class is appropriate for student learning.” Grades 8–12 also are limited to 30 students, but it is much easier for school districts to exceed this limit. In high schools, all that is required is that the principal and superintendent agree the class is appropriate for student learning.
“Thousands of teachers across BC disagree that their classes are appropriate for student learning. This clearly means that the legislation is not working,” said BCTF President Susan Lambert. “We believe that all children have the right to receive a quality education, with their peers, at their neighbourhood schools. Students with special needs require additional individual attention to succeed at school. But when class sizes are too large and the class composition is too complex, these students’ learning opportunities are jeopardized.”
The School Act contains limits on the number of students with special needs (i.e., those with Individual Education Plans) in order to protect the right of these students to the individual attention they need. The limit for all grades is three students with an IEP. Across the province the number of classes with more than three students with an IEP has been growing. When these limits are routinely exceeded, children can’t get the attention they need and deserve.
“Classroom teachers know their students’ needs and strengths best, and are best able to determine whether that composition is appropriate for student learning,” Wendy Turner, president of the Cranbrook District Teachers Association said. “Teachers have been watching with dismay over the past decade as the government says one thing—that there will only be a certain number of students in any class—and then funds far less, forcing districts to create oversized classes and leaving teachers and students to manage in very difficult situations.”