The Alberta Teachers’ Association is trying to set the record straight on its professional conduct discipline process in anticipation of legislation that would remove the responsibility from the union.
Late last year, Education Minister Adriana LaGrange announced her staff was working on legislation that will separate the teacher disciplinary process from the mandate and functions of the ATA.
At the time, the ATA was also directed to notify the registrar at Alberta Education of all complaints about the union’s membership when they are filed and not after the investigation is complete; which has been the practice.
The union, which represents teachers in the province, said it is concerned the removal of the disciplinary responsibility could lead to a shift in culture.
“The culture of the organization becomes much more focused on union and representing teachers’ interests, as opposed to the profession and representing the profession’s interests, and being able to take that place of the public interest in conduct as well,” Jonathan Teghtmeyer with the ATA said.
According to the ATA, its disciplinary process has three steps: investigation, a decision from the executive secretary on next steps and a hearing, if needed.
The union said anyone can file a complaint of unprofessional conduct and the ATA is obligated to investigate every complaint it receives.
Once the investigation is complete, a report is sent to the ATA’s executive secretary for a decision.
According to the ATA, the executive secretary can decide whether no further action is needed, refer the complaint to a mediation process or order a hearing.
The union said the hearings are open to the public and can result in reprimands, fines, a suspension, or a recommendation to the education minister that the teacher’s certificate be suspended or cancelled.
The ATA said a teacher loses their job and receives a permanent mark on their record if they are suspended.
“We believe that the best process is one that is administered by the profession — by teachers — ensuring that teachers continue to do their jobs in an ethical, credible manner,” said ATA executive secretary Dennis Theobald.
According to the Ministry of Education, the goal of the legislation is to ensure a new governance model “addresses matters of unprofessional conduct and professional competence in the teaching profession by putting student safety and the public interest first.”
“As a union, the ATA is tasked with representing the best interests of their members,” Ministry of Education spokesperson Katherine Stavropoulos said in a statement to Global News.
“If the same union or association also oversees discipline processes of these same members, it presents a clear conflict of interest.”
The ATA is refuting that claim and said the union does not represent teachers in professional conduct hearings. The ATA also said it is up to the individual to take care of their own defence and costs if they decide to get a lawyer.
Stavropoulos said more information on the legislation will be released once it is tabled, which she said would be in “spring 2022.”