By Cole Parkinson
The Alberta government is proposing new legislation focused on ensuring student safety.
Bill 85, the Education (Students First) Statutes Amendment Act was introduced last week by Education Minister Adriana LaGrange and it was explained the new act would not only provide enhanced safety for students, but also “confidence for parents by increasing transparency and accountability in the teacher discipline process.”
“This important legislation would ensure safety for students, confidence for parents, and accountability for teachers. It would do so by shining a light on how teachers and teacher leaders, such as principals and superintendents are disciplined in rare instances of professional misconduct. Why? Because we believe parents who put their faith in Alberta’s education system should have confidence that their children are safe when they go to school,” explained LaGrange at the news conference last week.
“I want to begin by thanking educators right across this province. The overwhelming majority of teachers and teacher leaders are dedicated professionals who care very deeply for their students and they go above and behind every day for them. Indeed, Alberta’s education system has excellent teachers and teacher leaders who are highly valued and crucial to ensuring the continued success of our students.”
The act would create a public online and searchable database of Alberta teacher and teacher leader information, which has been implemented in other provinces across Canada. LaGrange stated the new process was all about making sure people working with children at school were qualified to do so.
“I want to be very clear that this legislation is not about teachers, it is about students. It is about ensuring our education system here in Alberta puts students first. In fact, very little will change for most of Alberta’s 55,000 certificated teachers currently working in our schools. But, when disciplinary matters do arise, the process should be timely and it should be transparent. The Students First Act is the first step in improving this process for our students,” she continued. “This legislation would enhance student safety, increase transparency through public reporting, and improve oversight and timeliness of disciplinary matters. It will also bring Alberta in line with other jurisdictions and other provinces and the teaching profession in line with other professional organizations in the province. Parents rightly have high expectations for the people working within our education system every day with their children. As a mother myself, I believe parents deserve to know if their child’s teacher has been found guilty of unprofessional conduct or professional incompetence.”
The database would go back several decades and provide parents with a chance to review all certificates.
“If passed, Bill 85 would create an online database of information about Alberta certificated teachers and teacher leaders. This public online database would list the professional standing of Alberta’s teachers and teacher leaders dating back to 1954 and the professional status of their certificates,” stated LaGrange. “To ensure students and other staff are protected, the Students First Act would also require school authorities to obtain a police information check or a criminal record check, with a vulnerable sector check when hiring a teacher or teacher leader and every five years onward while the individual remains employed by a school authority. These checks are mandatory for many positions that work with children, like coaches or non-profit service providers.”
With teacher and teacher leaders required for criminal record checks under the proposed act, it was also explained there would be a 16-month timeline to get all of that work done as they don’t want to overwhelm the system.
“We don’t want it to be disruptive in any way, shape, or form,” added LaGrange.
She also explained the act would also speed up the process if a teacher or teacher leader had been convicted of a serious crime.
“If a teacher or teacher leader is convicted of a serious offence under the Criminal Code of Canada that threatens student safety or public interest, the Students First Act will fast track the process to cancel the individual’s teaching certificate,” she continued.
Mary Jane James, executive director for Sexual Assault Centre of Edmonton, was also on hand and voiced her opinion the act was a step in the right direction.
“I firmly believe that making criminal record and vulnerable sector checks mandatory when hiring, and again every five years, is an important tool to ensure those working with children are vetted appropriately to make sure our children are not potentially being placed in harm’s way,” she said. “Protecting students is a very, very serious responsibility. One that involves every single one of his as adults.”
A question was asked to the minister around if the act was in response to parent concerns or an increase of these types of cases. LaGrange explained it was more to come in line with what other provinces were doing.
“When I first became Minister of Education and in my time as a trustee, I saw cases arise and I was concerned. As I got further into my ministry, I saw more cases crossing my desk. I do not see the numbers are increasing, as I said earlier, the vast majority of teachers are amazing and wonderful human beings that are there for the right reason. They are there to look after the students, we entrust our children to their care, but in rare circumstances, there are cases where there is professional misconduct and also professional incompetency,” she explained. “We need to take that seriously and we need to be able to make that a transparent process where everyone can see the results of that process. I’m not seeing numbers increasing, they are still fairly few and far between, but even one case is one case too many.”
It was also explained this legislation would adjust the Alberta Teacher Association’s committee structure from six committees to a general panel from which members can be appointed to hear individual cases.
For more information on Bill 85, visit http://www.alberta.ca/putting-students-first.aspx.