Vernon teachers’ union thinks kids entitled to more school support

Vernon teachers and school district at odds over classroom supports

As Okanagan kids head back to class this week, they will be seeing more teachers and some smaller classes — the effects of last November’s Supreme Court of Canada decision.

However, there is still an unresolved dispute about how to fully implement that ruling in Vernon. The local teachers’ union argues that’s translating into students getting less support than they are entitled to.

This is the first new school year since a Supreme Court of Canada decision returned language on class size and composition to teacher’s contracts. That language is different depending what school district you are in.

READ MORE: BCTF wins landmark ruling against B.C. government

In Vernon, that has meant some smaller class sizes, more portables and 38 more full-time teachers.

However, more than nine months after the court ruling, the school district and teachers’ union can’t agree on how to fully implement the old collective agreement language that’s now back in place.

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“The Supreme Court restored the language and past practice… I talked to the director of instruction and the director of special education from 1999 and 2000 and got exactly how they did their staffing. That’s how we are doing it. We are restoring past practice,” explained Vernon School District Supt. Joe Rogers.

The two sides have differing definitions of which students should be counted as having special educational needs.

“We haven’t seen [the collective agreement language on class size and composition] for 15 years so it is a pretty tough thing to figure out how did it apply then in a system that was very different than the way we operate now with our students with special needs,” said Lisa LaBoucane, the president of the Vernon Teachers’ Association.

READ MORE: More Okanagan teachers expected after SCOC ruling

The union argues that means kids aren’t getting as much support as they should be.

“We were hoping for better supports for kids this year and honestly Vernon isn’t going to see that right away,” LaBoucane said.

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The province is footing the bill for the extra costs associated with the court decision and the school district argues it’s hard to hire more support staff if the expense may not be covered.

“We have to prove that was how we did it in those days and that we need it so it is not guaranteed funding,” Rogers said.

“Certainly the union and [I] agree we want to get the most resources we can and we are just going to go through the process to be able to do that.”

That process includes arbitration. No date has yet been set. That means Vernon students might have to wait months to find out if they are entitled to more classroom supports.

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