ATA News

New year brings new code of conduct


On Jan. 1 a new code of conduct for teachers and teacher leaders took effect. The ATA News sat down with ATA president Jason Schilling to discuss his thoughts about the new code and the new disciplinary process that accompanies it.

How significant is this change?

This is a huge, significant change for the Association. We’ve been performing this regulatory function for over 80 years and now that has been changed. It’s something that we’ve not seen in generations.

What are your thoughts on the new code itself?

I think the new code could have been a lot worse. Initially they were talking about mixing together competency and conduct into the same code, and that would have been unworkable. It would have created a mess. They have kept professional conduct and professional competency separate, which is a good thing.

There are some areas of vagueness in there. For instance, one section of the code talks about ideological advantage. There is a definition that goes with the code but it’s still quite vague, so I’m wondering what that will look like and what that means, and how we will see complaints go forward. I know that’s caused a lot of concern for some members.

What else has caught your eye?

The code that we had up until Dec. 31 indicated that you needed to let the other person know that you were going to file a complaint of professional conduct against them. This new code doesn’t require that, so some teachers have some concerns about that.

We’ve been urging teachers to talk to the other person before they file a complaint. The new code does not require that now, but you should still talk to them because you might be able to resolve the issue by having a conversation.

But in situations where you have a power differentiation, where somebody might be abusive to you, taking out the step of having to report to them that you’re going to file a complaint might be a benefit.

How much do you know about the new disciplinary process and how it will work?

We have a general idea, but so much of this is so new. Things changed over on Jan. 1, but there are still a lot of questions about what the process is, what will it look like, and who from the panel will be involved.

There are a lot of questions that still need to be answered and, unfortunately, some of the answers have to come from seeing how the process unfolds.

What are your thoughts on the makeup of the professional conduct and competency panel that will hear complaints against teachers?

I’m concerned that there are only two active members on this panel.

Previously, the panels that were created by the Association were made up primarily of active members. There were public members as well. You need people who understand teaching and the profession when you’re making judgments about professional conduct and competency.

What are your thoughts on the minister now having the final say in all discipline decisions?

The minister could always accept or change a recommendation made by a professional conduct committee concerning the suspension or cancellation of a teacher’s certificate. Certification has aways been under the control of the minister. Most ministers, Ms LaGrange being an exception, exercise their power infrequently, if at all. In any event, penalties affecting membership status were outside the minister’s jurisdiction.

The new process allows the minister to intervene and alter any penalty imposed by a hearing panel or arrived at through consent agreement. We keep hearing the ministry and the minister say that the Association couldn’t be involved in teacher discipline because there was a conflict of interest and that this new process is at arm’s length from government; now the minister has enshrined in legislation the ability to interject her opinion at the end of the process, so I don’t know how that makes the hearing and consent agreement processes truly independent from government.

Overall, how are you feeling about where this is sitting?

I’m fundamentally disappointed that government went down this path to strip the regulatory function from the Association. We had been working with the government on improving the regulatory process and had made considerable progress, but the minister made a unilateral decision that it was something that the Association would no longer be doing. That decision was made without consulting us and it was a surprise. We could have found a better path forward that would have served our members and the public, but this is something that the minister has decided to do.

Do you have a takeaway message for members?

Our responsibility now as an association is to make sure that teachers’ rights are protected through the process, and if they should happen to have a complaint of unprofessional conduct filed against them, to immediately call the Association for assistance. The Association will be here to assist you. ❚

New code for teachers—the pros and cons

A new code of conduct for teachers took effect Jan. 1, 2023. Created by the provincial government, the new code replaces the code that had been created and administered by the ATA. 

The new code contains the following elements that the ATA supports:

- is generally reasonable and quite similar to the Association’s previous code,

- incorporates direct references to the Charter of Rights and Freedoms and Alberta Bill of Rights,

- handles conduct and competence separately,

- recognizes professional judgment and intent,

- corrects some problematic elements of the Association’s code,

- applies to all certificated teachers regardless of whether they’re employed in a public or private school, and

- applies to teachers and teacher leaders.

The new code contains the following elements that are a concern for the ATA:

Code language (preamble):
“The conduct of teachers and teacher leaders, both on and off duty, bears directly on the community’s perception of the ability of teachers and teacher leaders to fulfill their unique position of trust and influence. Society and the school community hold teachers and teacher leaders to a high standard of conduct.” 

The ATA’s take:
We don’t know what this will mean or how the government may interpret this clause. 

Code language (1.g.iii):
“the teacher or teacher leader shall not (iii) while in a position of authority, teach or lead in a manner that exploits the teacher’s or teacher leader’s relationship with students for ideological advantage, material advantage or other advantage”

“In this Regulation, “ideological advantage” means perspectives taught to students in a biased manner with the intent to take advantage of a student’s uninformed or underinformed opinions, but does not include programs of study established under the Act”

The ATA’s take:
The question arises, what is ideological advantage? Although it is defined in the preamble, it is unclear what this could include. It mentions perspectives taught in a biased manner with the intent to take advantage of a student. It will be important to see how this is interpreted. 

Ambiguous provisions such as those related to “community perception” and “ideological advantage” will only become clear through adjudicative processes.

The code privileges Alberta Education policy.

It may embolden problematic parents/community members, motivated by ideological considerations.

The code diminishes teachers and is a step backwards for the profession.

The new code is missing elements that the ATA feels are important:

- No reference to protesting assignment of duties (not qualified or difficult to teach, Article 8 in previous code).

- No mention of items related to contractual obligations and providing notice for resigning in the Education Act 215 and 216 (articles 9 and 10 in previous code).

- No mention of adhering to negotiated agreements (Article 11 in previous code).

- No reference to how a teacher would protest administrative policies and practices or adopting a position of authority by administrator (Article 16 in previous code).

- No reference requiring an administrator to provide opportunities for staff expressions of opinion (Article 17 in previous code).

- No longer a requirement to advise colleagues first, prior to making a complaint about their competence or performance (articles 13 and 14 in previous code) even when this involves a routine disagreement among colleagues.

For more information

Find the code of conduct and related information including an ATA Q&A for teachers.


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