Alberta Education decision aligns with ATA call for protection
It was a case of the public’s right to know versus individual privacy and security. The latter won out and it was the correct decision.
That’s how Alberta Teachers’ Association privacy officer Margaret Shane characterizes a recent Alberta Education decision not to release the names of curriculum working group participants.
“It protects personal privacy and it makes it less likely that the whole process will be politicized,” Shane said.
The ministry began a six-year curriculum overhaul process last fall by selecting 400 educators to participate in working groups to review and develop the K–12 curriculum. Participants include teachers, ministry staff and post-secondary educators. A number of individuals and organizations have since been pressing the ministry to publicly release participants’ names or the names of the organizations that have been invited to participate.
“The NDP should be reassuring Albertans by being open and transparent about this rewrite process, instead of refusing to even release the names of the outside organizations invited to participate,” said Wildrose education critic Leela Aheer to Metro. “Albertans are concerned when curriculum writers refer to students as agents of change — they want to know that this not about NDP ideology.”
Sharon Polsky of Privacy Access Council of Canada said Alberta Education was using the province’s Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy (FOIP) legislation as a shield.
“Governments across Canada that profess to subscribe to openness and accountability — this flies in the face of their own stated policy,” she said in an interview with Metro.
However, Education Minister David Eggen said the calls for transparency were more about trying to score political points, so he decided against releasing the names.
“I’m not going to put individuals’ names out for people to make individual personal attacks against them. That’s not right,” Eggen said in an interview with the ATA News.
“If people want to judge, they can judge on the product that is put out but not to somehow bring it down to individual attacks on people.”
Eggen said that such calls for transparency haven’t occurred during previous curriculum reviews, and he stressed that the six-year process his ministry has created includes more consultation than ever before.
“We’re going back at every stage, every six months, to reengage with the public, too, so there’s just so many ways by which people can provide constructive criticism,” he said.
ATA president Mark Ramsankar agreed, saying that the classroom teachers who volunteered to participate in curriculum writing are fulfilling a professional and technical role, not a political one.
“These teacher volunteers should not be subject to online harassment or political lobbying simply because they are offering their experience and expertise to help the government,” he said.
“We strongly believe that these teachers have a right to privacy, and many have legitimate safety and security concerns that must be respected.”
The ATA asked its solicitors to write a letter to Alberta Education on behalf of 64 teacher participants who expressed concern about their names being released. The letter argues that disclosure would constitute unreasonable invasion of privacy and create the potential for harassment as well as potential damage to familial relationships and reputations.
Shane, the ATA’s privacy officer, helped craft this letter. She said that, in her communication with teacher participants, many expressed fear for their personal privacy, safety and ability to do their jobs.
Shane heard that, in many schools and smaller communities, it’s generally known which teachers are involved in curriculum work, so many working group participants are already feeling pressure from colleagues and others.
“Some of these teachers already have aggressive or even well-meaning advocates in their face going, this better be in there, and don’t forget that, and if it’s not included I know where you are and I’ll come after you,” Shane said.
If their names were made public, many teachers fear that their political affiliations, credentials or character would come under undue scrutiny and be used to politicize the curriculum process.
“That’s not what our members signed up for. They did not sign up to be used as a political football,” Shane said.
The potential for harm is amplified in this age of social media, she said, pointing to a number of instances of teachers being victimized by online bullying in recent years. Add to this the fact that Alberta’s FOIP legislation was written when the Internet was in its infancy, meaning the law is not well equipped to deal with these issues within the current technological landscape.
“The Internet is forever,” Shane said. “The stakes are very much higher than they used to be because you can do a lot of damage online with very little effort and very little evidence.” ❚