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Reactions to Teacher Act mixed

Legislation introduced by the ministry of education isn't the outcome education stakeholders expected from the Avison report, yet it hasn't been universally panned, either.

The new Teacher Act repeals the former Teaching Professions Act, which created the BC College of Teachers. The new council will have eight seats for teachers -- three appointed by the BC Teachers' Federation and five elected teachers -- and seven seats for other provincial education stakeholders.

The new nine-member disciplinary board, however, will only include three BCTF members, and disciplinary hearings will be held in front of three-member panels with only one person from the union.

The Avison Report, commissioned by the provincial government in 2010 in response to allegations the teachers' union was influencing the BCCT, found evidence of union pressure on the council and a "dysfunctional" working culture.

Details of the Teacher Act had been previously leaked to the media, sparking criticism from Kit Krieger, former teachers' union president and current BC College of Teachers registrar, who wrote a piece in the Vancouver Sun earlier this month decrying the new council.

"The solution Abbott will propose will disappoint everyone who hoped that the report would serve as a springboard to protecting children from predatory, unethical and incompetent teachers who harm children and embarrass an honourable profession. Abbott proposes to 'officially' hand over the current operations of the college to two ministry committees, one responsible for professional standards and the other for teacher discipline. These committees would be stacked with members endorsed or directly appointed by the union - a union that Avison concluded has consistently intruded upon the College's primary mandate of protecting children."

BCTF President Susan Lambert doesn't like the reforms, either. But unlike Krieger, Lambert doesn't think any changes to the College were necessary.

"I think what we needed to do was investigate cases cited (in the Avison report) to determine what, if anything, went wrong and then fix that," she says.

"We asked both Ministers MacDiarmid and Abbott to investigate, repeatedly, they did not. They instead chose the easy route of replacing the College."

The union is also unimpressed with the public aspect of the disciplinary hearings, saying teachers careers could be ruined for small errors in judgment, even if they're found innocent of all allegations against them.

In a teleconference with reporters this afternoon, Education Minister George Abbott says the Avison Report was strong and credible, but the reforms are based on more than that.

"This area of discipline and apprehensions, or from the TF's perception, misapprehensions about the disciplinary process, go back many years and many decades, and I hope that we turn a corner with respect to that today," he says.

Abbott went on to add the BCTF could stack the overall council in their favour, but it was designed that way on purpose.

"In my view, given that B.C.'s public school teachers comprise 73 per cent of the total teachers and others who will be subject to the processes of the council, I thought it appropriate that they at least have a theoretical opportunity to form the larger number.

"I know some people have a different view of that, but I think we need to give the educational partners here, including the BC Teachers Federation an opportunity to show a disposition to work in a more respectful, mature, thoughtful way than has been evidenced in the past."

Lambert says the teacher elections are open elections and "of course" the BCTF will participate. But she says it would still be less representation than the union has on the current council, where they hold eight out of twelve seats.

"Even that is a lesser representation of practitioners on a professional college of any other profession," she told The Tyee.

Jameel Aziz, president of the BC Principals and Vice-Principals Association, which has one member on the new council, says he is disappointed in the make-up of the council overall, but that compromises likely had to be made to keep BCTF representation on the disciplinary board low.

"As educators we always remain optimistic that things will be successful. It's probably not as dramatic a change as people would hope for, especially based on some of the findings in the Avison report," he says.

"But we remain optimistic that moving forward the public interest and what's important for students and families will continue to be at the forefront of the agenda of the (council) rather than any relationship with any representative group that those members may belong to."

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