In response to the harsh and unjust measures contained in Bill 22, teachers from across the province have crafted a bold plan of action with the ultimate goal of having the so-called Education Improvement Act repealed.
Almost 700 delegates at the BC Teachers’ Federation 96th Annual General Meeting adopted the plan after three days and evenings of intense debate about the best ways to defend public education from a decade-long systematic process of attack by the provincial government.
“Christy Clark as education minister started this fight 10 years ago with her legislation that stripped teachers’ collective agreements of our bargaining rights and of guarantees for quality learning conditions for students,” said BCTF President Susan Lambert. “The BC Supreme Court found her bills to be illegal and unconstitutional, yet her government has done nothing to show respect for the ruling, for public education or for the teachers and students of BC. In fact they’re violating the rights of teachers and cutting the same services to students with Bill 22.”
The BCTF will be mounting a legal challenge to Bill 22, said Lambert, who was re-elected Tuesday for her third term as president of the 41,000-member federation.
Lambert also criticized Education Minister George Abbott’s handling of this round of bargaining and his absence from the country at this critical time. “He is attempting to abdicate any accountability for the crisis this government has created in our schools and the broken relationship with the teachers of this province,” Lambert said. “It’s completely irresponsible to think he can impose this draconian legislation with its sham mediation process, order a cooling off period, and the next day head to China to recruit more fee-paying international students to our underfunded public schools.”
It is a measure of the depth of teachers’ outrage at Bill 22 that the action plan includes the possibility of a future vote on a full withdrawal of services, among other measures. As always in the BCTF, the members will decide whether this is the correct future course of action. The plan will be put to a province-wide vote of teachers on April 17 and 18, 2012.
“In April, all teachers will vote on the plan recommended by the AGM delegates. To be clear, the plan also includes a possibility of a future province-wide vote of members on whether it’s necessary to respond to government actions with a full-scale protest against Bill 22,” Lambert emphasized. “At every step of the way, government has chosen bullying tactics instead of respectfully working with teachers towards a solution.”
Under the plan, teachers will also decide whether to begin a province-wide withdrawal of all voluntary extra-curricular activities. “This government has repeatedly demonstrated such profound disrespect for the work we do that members felt they had to take a stand,” Lambert said. “It’s one of the only options left open under Bill 22.” Local teacher associations in about a dozen school districts have already voted independently to withdraw participation in extra-curricular voluntary activities.
Under the action plan, teachers will of course continue teaching and will prepare year-end report cards. As always throughout this job action, marks that are required for graduation, post-secondary application and scholarships have been, and will continue to be provided.
Teachers are deeply concerned about the negative impact of Bill 22 on class size and class composition. The legislation removes any effective limits on class sizes from Grades 4-12 and eliminates caps on the numbers of students with special needs assigned to any particular class. Furthermore, it doesn’t address the loss of more than 1,500 learning specialist teachers, whose skills are desperately needed to support all students’ learning.
A particularly galling part of Bill 22 is a “cash-for-kids” clause, which would see some teachers being paid extra for having classes that exceed 30 students. The action plan calls for teachers to refuse to accept additional pay for oversized classes.
“We reject this idea outright. It’s a totally unethical proposition from this government that would do absolutely nothing to improve learning conditions for kids. It’s despicable that they think teachers would trade our professional ethos of care for money,” Lambert said. “We’ve been advocating for decades for the conditions that kids need. All students deserve to be in a class where they can get the individual care and attention they need, but after a decade of cuts BC teachers can’t keep on filling the gaps for a generation of children growing up in the highest child poverty rate in Canada.”
The action plan also contemplates motivating teachers to make defense of public education a vote-determining issue in the May 2013 provincial election.
“Across BC teachers will be active in their communities, working hard to ensure a strong and stable public education system as part of the foundation of our democracy and for the rights of all children to an education that meets their individual learning needs,” Lambert said. “We need a government that supports teachers and parents as we work together to provide the very best for BC kids, not one that claims to put families first while attacking all the vital public services people need.”