Johnson demands teacher employment files

August 26, 2014 ATA Staff

Association did not ask Johnson to request teacher information from school boards

In a letter sent to school boards on June 26, Education Minister Jeff Johnson asked school board chairs to forward details to him of all cases from the past ten years related to complaints against teachers, board of reference matters, and suspensions, terminations, resignations and retirements that were connected to unprofessional conduct or professional incompetence matters.

Johnson’s request to school boards came just days after the Office of the Information and Privacy Commissioner of Alberta ruled that the minister had misused teachers’ personal e-mail addresses (see “Johnson misused teachers’ personal e-mail addresses”).

The ATA has asked the privacy commissioner’s office to rule on whether the minister’s request to school boards is reasonable, saying that releasing this information would once again risk exposing vast quantities of private information. The ATA noted that some of the cases involve nondisclosure agreements, while others involve contractual obligations that are private matters between an employer board and its teachers.

“As the representative and agent of Alberta’s teachers, the Association has a responsibility to ensure that their rights and personal information are protected and that school boards respond appropriately to the disclosure order issued by Minister Johnson. I am hoping that Alberta’s privacy commissioner will step in and provide guidance,” said Ramsankar. “The minister has claimed that there are teachers who are not being held responsible for egregious acts, and we have challenged him to substantiate his anecdotal reports.”

Beyond the privacy concerns, Ramsankar said that most school boards were closed for the summer, and parsing 10 years’ worth of documents for FOIP violations would take a level of human resources and expertise that few boards have at this time of year.

Johnson had strongly implied in comments to the media that his demand to school boards to produce 10 years’ worth of information concerning complaints made against individual teachers was made at the request of the Alberta Teachers’ Association.

The minister’s claim is unfounded.

ATA President Mark Ramsankar, in a letter sent to Johnson on June 19, 2014, noted that the minister had shared with media and with ATA officials anecdotal reports of instances where teachers weren’t being held accountable for egregious unprofessional conduct. 

Ramsankar noted that these reports were unsubstantiated and may have involved situations of which the ATA was unaware. He called upon the minister to direct individuals providing him with these reports, and superintendents in particular, to act in accordance with the law and forward information concerning potential cases of unprofessional conduct to the Association. Once the information was received, the ATA would investigate and take appropriate action in accordance with the provisions of the Teaching Profession Act.

The process set out in the legislation normally involves reporting allegations to the Association’s executive secretary, and in rare cases (where a teacher has been charged with or convicted of an indictable offence), to the provincial Registrar as well. In his letter, Ramsankar specifically warned the minister against becoming involved himself, saying: “In order to protect your ability to perform your functions with respect to certification without prejudice, I suggest that you avoid personal involvement in soliciting the information requested above or in lodging any related complaints.”

Ramsankar’s June 19 letter in no way justifies the minister’s decision on June 26 to demand that school boards provide him by July 11 all complaints lodged against teachers over the last 10 years as well as all information relating to teachers who resigned, retired, were suspended or were terminated in response to allegations of unprofessional conduct or professional incompetence, whether or not the complaints or underlying allegations were proven.

This is an intrusive demand for employment information that is no business of the minister. School boards, not Jeff Johnson, employ teachers, and school boards, not Jeff Johnson, are responsible for hiring and firing teachers, said the ATA president.

The minister did not consult or advise the ATA before issuing his disclosure demand to school boards, nor did he copy the ATA on his letter to board chairs. It’s entirely unclear how the information he is requesting would be analyzed, for what purposes it would be used and how (or whether) it would be protected. The minister’s demand for personnel information goes far beyond what would be necessary to chase down the truth behind the stories he’s being told. “It looks to me like Johnson is on a fishing trip and he’s fishing with dynamite,” commented Ramsankar.

By mid-July, the minister put his request for information from boards on hold, citing “encouraging dialogue” between the ATA and government officials. The Association consequently put its request for intervention from the privacy commissioner on hold.

Read ATA President Ramsankar’s letter to Johnson and a transcript of the minister’s letter to school boards. ❚

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