June 30, 2014 6:20 pm
Updated: June 30, 2014 8:40 pm

Education minister asks Alberta school boards for teacher conduct documents


EDMONTON — Education minister Jeff Johnson is asking Alberta school boards to provide records of any complaints about teacher misconduct or incompetence over the past 10 years.

Johnson said he is using his authority under the School Act to request the records be shared with the province by July 11.

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“It’s actually the minister that regulates the teaching profession, it’s not the ATA,” said Johnson. “But the ATA has been given all the powers to investigate complaints and to hold the disciplinary hearings. And a lot of the records of all the HR issues that come forward sit with the school boards, so I actually don’t have the information that I need to give myself good data to make decisions on.”

Over the past few weeks, Johnson said he has had good meetings with the Alberta Teachers’ Association regarding the recent Task Force for Teaching Excellence and its findings, and they agreed they don’t have enough data.

READ MORE: Education minister bans teachers for conduct, overruling recommendations 

He says he has heard concerns about the process and expense to deal with complaints and discipline and he wants a more comprehensive picture of what’s going on in each school jurisdiction.

“We’ve realized that we don’t have enough good data on what’s actually happening on the ground to validate some of the things we’re hearing or to dismiss them.

“This is really just due diligence,” Johnson told Global News Monday.

(Read the full letter below).

The letter came as a shock to the ATA.

“We didn’t know about it, we weren’t cc’ed on it, and it came as an absolute surprise,” said president Mark Ramsankar.

“The first thing that jumps out is: what are we after? Where are we going with it? And, what’s the purpose?

“We’re interested in making sure that the information that is gathered has appropriate use,” he added. “Are the privacies of the individuals involved being respected and again, where are we going with this information?”

How does the ATA think the current process for teacher conduct works?

“We’ve answered this question many times over. The process does work. Do we have issues that we want to discuss? I’ve said, in a meaningful way, we can sit down and look at individual issues that need to be addressed.

“The continual look for information and digging and digging is very troublesome and it does raise the question what are you looking for and to what end?”

The minister has requested the following information from school boards:

–          All complaints against teachers, regardless of the action taken.

–          All Board of Reference matters, including hearings, withdrawals,  terminations and settlements.

–          Voluntary resignations, retirements, suspensions and terminations for unprofessional conduct or professional incompetence.

–          The suspension or termination of a certified staff member for matters related to unprofessional conduct and/or professional incompetence.

“The end game in all of this is to validate or dismiss some of the anecdotal examples that we’re hearing around the province on discipline on teachers and whether the process is working or it isn’t working,” said Johnson.

READ MORE: Alberta teachers call new report an assault on educators 

What does he say to the criticism that this could be seen as an attack on teachers?

“Absolutely not. We’re sticking up for students, is what we’re doing.

“This is about students and it needs to be about students. These are our kids and they need to be protected. And we want to make sure that only the world’s best are in front of them and I think the ATA, myself, the ASBA and CASS are all aligned on that.”

Helen Clease, a trustee with the Alberta School Boards Association, calls the minister’s request “probably long overdue.”

“The letter has come about because I think anecdotally we’ve been hearing for a long time across the province that the process for dealing with professional conduct and discipline is very costly and very time-consuming. I think what this will do is shed light on what the issues are — if there are any issues — and we’ll be able to determine a path forward as to how to address them.

“I think school boards deal with a lot of issues locally, and maybe some of them don’t get to the ATA. I can’t say that for certain, but I do know that when you have a Board of Reference — if you take it to that point — it becomes very costly and very time-consuming for boards, so if there was a deterrent, it would be that,” she added.

Clease spoke with the minister Monday morning to address some concerns the school boards had with the request for information.

“First of all, the timelines that he’s put in place and the scope of how much information he needs in those timelines,” she explained. “We want to make sure that if we’re going to provide information, that the information we provide is protected. We have to think about our students, our parents, our teachers, everyone who may be involved and protect privacy.”

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