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New teachers' disciplinary agency takes away union power at hearings

Jan 06 2012

A new B.C. government agency responsible for investigating complaints against teachers and meting out discipline will be up and running Monday.

The Teacher Regulation Branch replaces the former B.C. College of Teachers, which had come under fire for its lack of independence from the B.C. Teachers' Federation.

The government passed legislation last fall to dissolve the self-regulatory college, establish a new branch of the Education Ministry and weaken the union's influence over disciplinary matters.

Union members will continue to dominate a 15member council that sets standards for teachers, but the union will no longer hold sway on the disciplinary board and hearing panels.

A commissioner, appointed by cabinet, will handle complaints, conduct investigations and assign cases to panels for public hearings. Union members will hold just one of three seats on any hearing panel.

The council and commissioner have yet to be appointed, but staff from the former college are transferring to the new branch Monday and will continue to process complaints and certify teachers.

"It should be seamless as far as the public sees it," said college and branch spokesman Mykle Ludvigsenh.

While there is urgency to get the new teachers' council in place, it will have less control over day-to-day activities than the previous college council, Ludvigsenh said.

"The new council, because their mandate is a lot more limited than what the old council's mandate was, we'll be able to operate, at least in the short term, without having them in place."

Teachers' union president Susan Lambert said the government appears to be rushing the branch into place. She expressed concern that the office will be in flux until the new council is appointed and elected.

"It seems like they're kind of putting the cart before the horse," she said.

The union is concerned that the public nature of the new system will make teachers the subject of "show trials" and vulnerable to having health problems or other challenges exposed.

"We're not being involved," Lambert said. "There's no consultation. Everything is done behind closed doors by some kind of fiat from on high."

The union plans to raise its concerns at a meeting with Education Minister George Abbott on Monday.

The Teacher Regulation Branch will call for council nominations next week. Teachers will control eight of 15 seats, with five teachers elected from different regions and three appointed from the ranks of the B.C. Teachers' Federation.

The other seven council members will come from associations representing school trustees, superintendents, parents and other partners in education.

A nine-member disciplinary and professional conduct board will be drawn from the council, with teachers holding four seats.

Kris Magnusson, dean of education at Simon Fraser University, said it remains to be seen how well the new system works. But he said it eliminates any appearance of unfairness that existed when teachers' union members dominated the college council.

"I'm not saying the old way wouldn't be fair or couldn't be fair, but it could be perceived as such," he said.

"Now, when there's not a balance of power held by a particular group, I think it removes that potential for the perception that things could have been unfair."

The changes follow a report last year by Don Avison, a former deputy education minister.

He concluded that the teachers' college had become dysfunctional and lacked independence from the B.C. Teachers' Federation. The union denied that its members interfered in the college's disciplinary processes.

lkines@timescolonist.com

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