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Court ruling is a ‘big win’ for teachers, students

Gail Chaddock-Costello - file photo
Gail Chaddock-Costello
— image credit: file photo

Monday’s B.C. Supreme Court ruling that rejected the provincial government’s effort to keep class size and special needs support off the bargaining table is a big win for teachers and students, said Langley Teachers’ Association Gail Chaddock-Costello.

“We are very supportive of our special needs students, but numbers do matter,” said Chaddock-Costello.

The government stripped class size limits and composition from a contract with the B.C. Teachers Federation, including how many special needs students could be in one classroom and the level of supports of Special Education Assistants (SEAs).

“Now we have classes in Langley with five or sometimes as many as eight special needs students, all who require individualized lesson plans,” she explained.

“The students may have high functioning autism or various degrees of special needs. But it makes for an impossible task for teachers and impacts learning for the whole classroom. The teacher wants to do the best they can, but they are burdened by feeling like they could do more.”

With the judgment, which also ordered the government to pay $2 million in damages to the B.C. Teachers’ Federation, it could mean job postings as quickly as spring, she predicts.

“We will see the return of proper staffing ratios,” she said.

Class sizes in specialty courses is an issue now.

“In our collective agreement we used to, for safety reasons, have class size limits for science, shop and home ec. So now we have students in home ec having to wait their turn because they didn’t add more work stations, just more students.”

In a ruling released Monday, Justice Susan Griffin said the B.C. government’s replacement legislation, passed in 2011, is as unconstitutional as the legislation they brought in 2002 (called Bill 28) which removed class size and special needs support from union working conditions.

“The court concluded that the government did not negotiate in good faith with the union after the Bill 28 decision,” Griffin wrote.

The government has one month to appeal. Both Premier Christy Clark and Minister of Education Peter Fassbender, former Langley City mayor, said they are looking at that option.

Fassbender said that parents and students should see this as “business as usual.”

But Chaddock-Castello said she sees changes coming to class compositions no later than September.

Chaddock-Costello believes the government has no basis to appeal.

“You can’t appeal something because you don’t like the findings,” she said.

Both Langley School District Superintendent Suzanne Hoffman and Secretary Treasurer David Green said they have been told to continue on with “business as usual.”

“The advice to all school boards in B.C. is not to do anything until clarity is provided.

“We don’t expect any changes this year,” said Green after Tuesday’s school board meeting.

Both school administrators believe the government will appeal the judgment.

But if teaching ratios are put back to 1999 levels as is suggested by the court’s decision, it will be very expensive for taxpayers, said Green.

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