Education Minister Adriana LaGrange has introduced legislation that would reroute complaints on teacher conduct and competence through a newly established Alberta Teaching Profession Commissioner, appointed by the minister.
LaGrange unveiled Bill 15, the Education (Reforming Teacher Profession Discipline) Amendment Act, at an embargoed news conference on March 31. The Association was not permitted to participate in the briefing, nor did it receive any information concerning the bill prior to its tabling in the Legislature.
LaGrange said the new legislation aims to improve student safety, but ATA president Jason Schilling said the move is punitive.
“This is designed to punish the teaching profession for standing up to the minister’s poor handling of the education file,” he said. “It’s a crass, insensitive bid to undermine public confidence in teachers and the ATA.”
LaGrange said the changes will not impact the role of the ATA in “member-focused advocacy or services” or collective bargaining. “The ATA would have you believe that this is an attack on teachers. Nothing, but nothing could be further from the truth,” said LaGrange.
But Schilling disagrees. He said the minister’s goal is to weaken the profession, and it will have far-reaching effects on teachers, schools and public education. Whereas a united Association can focus on viewing issues through a professional lens and not just through teachers’ interest and union responsibilities, Schilling said LaGrange’s legislation will force the ATA to act as a labour union only, with a narrow view on teachers’ interests first. The move will introduce more management-labour conflicts into schools, displacing the collaborative, collegial environment that has been a hallmark of Alberta’s public education system.
Schilling says that the minister is introducing a system that consolidates and concentrates power in her hands. The minister will have unilateral powers to hire and fire the teaching profession commissioner, appoint both teachers and public members to sit on hearing committees, and establish the Code of Professional Conduct. Even then, the minister has no obligation to respect the outcomes of the process. She would be able to dismiss complaints, issue reprimands and even cancel certificates, “whether or not it is the recommendation of the hearing (or appeal) committee.”
Schilling calls this an expansive power grab by a minister that enjoys very little public trust and no confidence from teachers.
“This minister is asking Albertans to give her a great deal of trust to oversee the teaching profession. After the gross mishandling of curriculum — including very questionable appointments — and other education issues, it is hard to imagine how Albertans could extend that level of trust to this government,” says Schilling. “When it comes to ethics and integrity, I don’t think this government should be trusted right now with more powers and more authority.”
Schilling says the ATA is the group that teachers and the public trust more to uphold teacher standards.
“The process that the ATA has established [for discipline] is transparent and accountable,” he said. “It stands in stark contrast to the secretive and unaccountable process that the minister has maintained in place for private and charter school teachers and superintendents who have been regulated directly by the government — this hardly inspires confidence in a process that will be run by the government and answerable only to the minister.”
“The minister is taking the fumbling and bumbling approach we’ve seen on curriculum reform and applied it to regulatory reform,” says Schilling.
The new proposed disciplinary model set out under the direction of the Alberta Teaching Profession Commissioner would come into force on January 1, 2023.
Regulations will need to be provided by government to address how current complaints will be transitioned from the Association and the registrar’s office to the new commissioner. LaGrange said that regulatory work for transitional provisions, as well as remaining details for the proposed model, would begin later this spring.
Bill 15 was tabled shortly before the deadline for the publication of this article. Additional details and further analysis of the 250-page bill will be featured in future communications from the Association.