Delegates line up to announce local donations to the ATA Educational Trust during ARA 2018. The donations are an annual tradition. The assembly also debated several hot-button issues, including class size, violence in the workplace, sexual education and mandatory vaccinations.
One hundred and one years after the Alberta Education Association adopted motions to create an independent teachers’ organization, delegates of the 101st Annual Representative Assembly adopted resolutions to maintain the Alberta Teachers’ Association in its current form.
ARA 2018, held in Calgary over the Victoria Day long weekend, approved 263 resolutions, celebrated the 100-year history of the Alberta Teachers’ Association and approved the operating budget for the first year of the Association’s second century.
Two resolutions (3-92 and 3-93) affirmed the benefits of a unitary teacher organization and resolved to adamantly oppose any efforts to divide or diminish the ATA’s membership. These were a direct response to a policy adopted by the United Conservative Party (UCP) to split the ATA into a separate trade union and teachers college.
ATA president Greg Jeffery noted during debate that there have been numerous attempts to split the ATA over the years and that 100 years later, the organization still stands unified.
“How have we resisted this threat for so long?” he asked. “Because of our resolve, because of our solidarity and because of our members.”
Vice-president Jason Schilling said the UCP’s policy to split the ATA was adopted because a well-organized lobby within the party pushed the policy through along with other regressive education policies.
“It makes no sense to dramatically alter such a key component of a world-class system because of the unwarranted hostility of a special interest group toward us,” he said. “We are teachers; we are the Association. We will not be divided.”
Both resolutions passed unanimously.
Other hot topics discussed at ARA included class size, violence in the workplace, sexual education and mandatory vaccinations.
Resolution 3-97 urged the department of education to establish, fund and enforce districtwide pupil/teacher ratio standards in order to achieve the class size targets set out by the Alberta Commission on Learning. Resolution 3-99 urged the department to require school authorities to track incidents of violence and harassment affecting school staff.
One speaker, choking up with emotion, spoke about colleagues who had been attacked, hit and spit on by students, including one colleague who was sexually assaulted in her own classroom.
The most hotly debated session featured three resolutions related to issues of sex education and programs to address sexual violence and consent.
Resolution 2-15, proposed by Edmonton Public teachers, called on the government to make all outcomes related to human sexuality in health and career and life management (CALM) curricula mandatory without provisions for opting out.
Arguing in favour of the resolution, one delegate said “sex ed curriculum, or program of studies, that is evidence based, medically accurate and age appropriate should not be seen as an infringement on the role of parents.”
Another delegate, arguing against the motion, said he has taught CALM for 10 years in a socially conservative community and has been able to get most parents on board with the human sexuality outcomes because he’s treated them with respect and did not compel them to be compliant. He reported having only three cases in which parents opted their kids out of the instruction, although they agreed to having the students included in assessment on the outcomes.
“They told me that they would teach it, they just wanted to be the one to do it,” he said.
“I have never had a single student or parent completely opt out of the system because I invited them on board, because I treated them with respect,” he said. “We will not get compliance and change if we do not show respect.”
Another delegate expressed a different opinion.
“I don’t believe the nature of this motion is to remove the rights of parents to have this information or to deliver this information,” she said. “I believe it is to ensure that all students have access to accurate, scientifically based information regarding their sexuality.”
That resolution passed.
Delegates also adopted one resolution calling on the government to fund programs and services to address issues of sexual exploitation, sexual assault, sexual harassment and consent, and another one that called for those issues to be included in health and CALM programs of study.
Mandatory vaccination also discussed
Delegates also thoroughly discussed a resolution (2-18) calling for the government to require mandatory vaccinations, with no personal or religious exemptions, for all students attending schools receiving public funds.
Delegates spoke to the need to ensure that immunization coverage stayed large enough to provide benefit for students or staff who have compromised immunity or are medically unable to be vaccinated.
“Take the courageous step to say this is the right thing to do,” said one teacher. “I believe in a safe and a caring school and as long as we let people opt out of vaccinations, it is not a safe school, no matter how much we care.”
Others thought the objectives of the motion could be achieved by other means.
“Persuasion, appeal to people’s values and education are less coercive means of promoting vaccine compliance,” argued one delegate. “This method is more in line with how I believe the Association needs to move forward should they wish to become involved in the highly contentious vaccine debate.”
The resolution passed.
Overheard at ARA
For and against mandatory sex ed
“Every student in the province has a right to be taught the program of studies, and we have the responsibility to teach the program of studies… Schools teach the facts. Parents can teach the values.”
“When governments attack the profession, generally parents are on our side. Remove their freedom of choice, and I think they won’t be.”
For and against mandatory vaccinations
“We are very fortunate to have this debate and to be where we are in this world. Three generations ago this debate would have been about 10 seconds long as polio and small pox ravaged our children and our newborns.”
“Regulation is useful; absolute mandates go too far.”