THE BC Teachers’ Federation has won an important ruling in a provincial grievance filed almost a year ago. It alleged school boards breached the collective agreement by failing to hire enough certified teachers to meet class-size and specialist ratios language that was restored by the Supreme Court of Canada.
In a decision rendered October 11, arbitrator Jennifer Glougie stated: “The restored language is of great importance to teachers and was won after a hard-fought, protracted legal battle. The fact remains that, for almost a decade and a half, teachers have been deprived of these important rights which the SCC Decision acknowledges were unconstitutionally removed from their collective agreement.”
Since the SCC’s landmark ruling, Chilliwack and other school districts did not recruit enough teachers to meet the class-size limits nor the guarantees of services from specialist teachers. As a result, when classroom teachers are absent, teacher-librarians, counsellors, and other special education teachers are being pulled away from their specialist duties, in violation of the contract.
“Because of the failure to fill classroom teaching positions, students with special needs have been losing out,” BCTF President Glen Hansman said. “Every time a specialist teacher is required to fill in for a classroom teacher, their special programs are set aside. Students with special needs should not be bearing the burden of school districts’ reluctance to recruit pro-actively.”
Evidence from the Chilliwack school district was used as an example in this arbitration, but the impact of Glougie’s decision is by no means limited to Chilliwack. Rather, it will provide guidance in resolving similar issues in other school districts across the province, Hansman emphasized.
“Chilliwack is not the only district that could have hired more teachers and chose not to,” Hansman noted. “Hundreds more people applied for positions and some districts didn’t hire them, or even interview.”
Ever since the Supreme Court ruling, the BCTF has urged government to act. The previous Liberal government put $50 million toward teacher recruitment in January 2017, and a further $2 million for rural and remote districts later that spring. However, many districts, including Chilliwack, did not take advantage of all the available funding to help jumpstart hiring, and passed over certified teachers they could have hired, so the problem persisted into the 2017–18 school year.
The BCTF has repeatedly raised concerns with Education Minister Rob Fleming about the persistence of the failure-to-fill problem and the impact on students, especially those with special needs. Fleming appointed a ministerial Task Force on Immediate Recruitment and Retention Challenges, which reported back in December 2017, but only some of its recommendations have been implemented. Meanwhile, shortage problems have continued.
Hansman called on the minister to implement the remainder of the recommendations urgently, and to direct school districts to ensure that day-to-day teacher absences are filled and that students are not deprived of the specialist services they require.
“It’s now the seventh week of the school year and there are almost 400 teaching jobs advertised,” Hansman said. “This shortage was predictable and avoidable. It must be addressed immediately.”