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Minister says appeal of BCTF court win will protect students, taxpayers

British Columbia Education Minister Peter Fassbender today said the provincial government will protect students by appealing a court decision that last week affirmed teachers' right to negotiate class size and composition limits.

"The judgment centred on the union's interests, not students' needs," Fassbender said in a prepared statement. "It is government's responsibility to balance those interests against the best interests of students, their families, and the 4.6 million British Columbians who already invest nearly $5 billion into the K-12 education every year."

On Jan. 27, B.C. Supreme Court justice Susan Griffin ruled that legislation the government passed restricting the B.C. Teachers' Federation from negotiating working conditions in their contracts with the government was unconstitutional.

Griffin awarded the BCTF $2 million in damages and made it clear that the ruling opens up the possibility of grievances going back to 2002 when the province first passed laws breaking the BCTF's contract and taking working conditions off the table.

Aside from the province's legal concerns, Fassbender noted, "In practical terms, the judgment is completely unaffordable for taxpayers."

"Today, we learned Premier Clark and Education Minister Peter Fassbender are not serious about stability in B.C.'s education system," BCTF President Jim Iker said, according to speaking notes for a news conference this morning.

"By announcing their intent to appeal B.C. teachers' important and historic court victory, Christy Clark's government has shown they think they are above the law," he said. "The government has broken the law, the Constitution, twice. But, they continue to put their own political agenda before students."

Teachers want students to get the support they need, said Iker. "Christy Clark is saying no to smaller classes, no to increased support for students with special needs, and no to extra help for all kids."

NDP education critic Rob Fleming has a press event on the topic scheduled this afternoon.

Premier Clark last week was quick to say the government would appeal Griffin's ruling, though at that point Fassbender said he would take time to review the reasons for judgement in the "complicated" case before deciding how to proceed.

Andrew MacLeod is The Tyee's Legislative Bureau Chief in Victoria. Find him on Twitter or reach him here.

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