Posts tagged class size

These are bad times in court for school authorities

In the past couple of weeks, school authorities in British Columbia have suffered two significant losses in court:

  1. In British Columbia Teachers’ Federation v. British Columbia (BC Courts), the Honourable Madam Justice Griffin of the BC Supreme Court ruled that the legislation brought in to remove class size from bargaining but rather to insert provisions on class size directly into the School Act (BCLaws) violated the Canadian Charter of Rights and FreedomsHere (GlobeandMail) is a discussion of the decision and its implications, and here is the response of the BCTF (calling the decision “huge”).  Here is the response of the BC Public School Employers’ Association. 
  2. In Riazi v. Vancouver School District No. 39 (CanLII), the Honourable Madam Justice Dardi of the BC Supreme Court certified as a class action an application by parents regarding fees charged by a school board in relation to certain summer school courses.  Here (Global) is a discussion of the decision and its implications. 

Each of these decisions represent a significant threat to the province and school districts and should be treated with great care.

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BCCA favours BCTF in class size grievance against school employers

The BC Court of Appeal has released its decision (CanLII) in another round of litigation over class sizes between the British Columbia Teachers’ Federation (BCTF) and the British Columbia Public School Employers’ Association (BCPSEA), setting aside the original arbitration and court decisions and sending the matter back to the initial arbitration stage with some guidance.  Essentially, the court sided with the BCTF, which has claimed the victory.

Here is the BCPSEA’s take on the decision, which includes a fairly comprehensive backgrounder and overview of the judgment.  Here is the BCTF’s press release.  Here is coverage from the Vancouver Sun’s education reporter, Janet Steffenhagen, on the decision;  scroll to the bottom of the page to review some of the public comments.

Class size has been a hotly contested issue between teachers and their employers in public schools for many years (see here for another post on the subject).  This most recent decision of the BC Court of Appeal serves to further refine the meaning of the provisions on class size added to the School Act (BCLaws).  See here, here, here, here, and here (CanLII) for a sampling of decisions dealing with these provisions.

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Nanaimo teachers start lawsuit against school district on class sizes

I have considerable sympathy for good teachers.  From my experience as a parent, taking care of two kids is overwhelming.  Although my son (the elder) is talented at saying “no” to me in multiple language, with different accents, etc., he isn’t yet at the stage where he thinks he knows more than me, thinks I’m just plain uncool, and thinks my time with him is a like a punishment for him, when he has to sit and listen to me try to teach him things he prefers not to be taught.  No one else is looking over my shoulder asking why he can’t recite this or that, why I haven’t used this or that learning approach, or – worst of all – questioning my true motivations as an adult for wanting to spend so much time with children.

After a friend of mine had a third child, he said him and his wife went from playing “man-to-man” defense to zone.  You’re outnumbered, so just take choose space between them and try to juggle until they fall asleep without you being defeated.  Teachers, in my mind, are always playing zone.  They have a different role than parents – of course – but they share certain obligations and expectations.  Also, the purpose of their time is to educate, not just to babysit.  Not easy to do it well. 

That’s why any news of class size issues raises my ears.  Derek Spalding of the Vancouver Sun reported over the weekend that the Nanaimo District Teachers’ Association filed a petition in the BC Supreme Court against the Nanaimo-Ladysmith School District relating to its approval of certain classroom sizes, which the NDTA alleges involves a misinterpretation of the School Act (see a link to another post on class sizes here).  I haven’t seen any of the documents filed with the court, so it’s hard to get a perfect sense of the legal issues being raised, but I presume it reaches back to the debate about Bill 33 (BC Legislative Assembly), which deals directly with class sizes.  Here is some background information on class sizes put out by the British Columbia Teachers’ Federation.

The statutory framework of the this issue involves section 76.1 of the School Act and the Class Size RegulationThis is a link to an index of the laws related to K to 12 education put out by the Ministry of Education, which points to different relevant provisions that may be useful for anyone interested in learning more. 

Far more lawsuits start than end with a judgment.  We’ll see where this one goes.

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Do school labour disputes risk bypassing students’ interests?

Won’t somebody please think of the children?!

There was an interesting article last week by Janet Steffenhagen of the Vancouver Sun dealing with a recent labour decision involving the British Columbia Teachers’ Federation (BCTF) and the British Columbia Public School Employers’ Association (BCPSEA).

The claim arose from an alleged violation of the class size prohibitions under section 76.1 of the School Act (BC), which only allows school boards to put more than a certain number of students in each class if the principal of the school either obtains the consent of (or consults with, depending on the grade) the teacher.  As a result, the teachers’ union was demanding:

  1. a declaration that certain boards of education had violated section 76.1; and
  2. compensation awards for the teachers hard done by, with additional funds to support the local teaching community.

In other words, teachers were the ones to suffer from this misconduct, and they should be rewarded accordingly.  As the arbitrator put it:

When a board of education exceeds grade level size and composition standards for a class and does not meet the requirements with respect to the class, the burden of the breach is primarily borne by the teacher(s) of the class, not the principal, superintendent, trustees, or even individual students.

It was that last part that really irked Mary Ellen Turpel-Lafond and John Bird, two heads of groups with the welfare of children as a primary goal.  What the teachers get from the arbitrator’s decision is clear, but what do the students get? Haven’t they suffered from being jammed into classrooms together with an overwhelmed teacher?  Turpel-Lafond hinted further that this is an example of how the educational system is increasingly shaped by labour disputes and financial constraints.

Labour issues do play a central role in defining the rules that apply to educational actors.  The School Act is structured to place the ball in the BCTF’s court where a school board steps out of line, particularly on the issue of class sizes, which has been the subject of legal disputes in the labour context for many years.  There is no clear mechanism (or, at least, no clear precedent) for a student who advance a claim, for example, if a school board violates section 76.1.

Interestingly, the BCTF appears to dispute the notion that this model benefits teachers while prejudicing students: see the BCTF press release on the decision here.

Another point that’s been made on the decision is who should pay for the breach.  Almost anytime a government body is found liable and a damages award is ordered, that body pays but the burden flows directly to the taxpayers, which further reduces the resources available to students.  See here for a letter to the editor of Times-Colonist from a former BCTF leader, arguing that the individuals who made the impugned decisions should be disciplined.

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