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BCTF takes government back to court over Bills 27/28

*Updated 1:44 p.m., June 19/12

Ten years after the issue first went before a judge, the BC Teachers' Federation is taking the provincial government back to court over Bills 27 and 28.

In a landmark ruling made in April 2011, Madam Justice Susan Griffin ruled several sections of Bills 27 and 28 unconstitutional, including those that removed teachers' ability to negotiate class size and composition and the ratio of teachers to students. The teachers' declared it a victory, marking nine years since the issue was first brought to court in 2002.

Griffin gave the provincial government one year to remove and replace the laws. Government responded with Bill 22, The Education Improvement Act, in February. But the BC Teachers' Federation (BCTF) maintains Bill 22 "immediately reinstates these provisions in identical terms in the same section of the same law."

A document comparing previous legislation, including Bills 27 and 28 to Bill 22 available on the BC Public School Employers' Association states government will repeal the restrictions on negotiation class size, composition, and staffing levels and ratios by June 30, 2012.

In the meantime under Bill 22 class sizes are capped for Kindergarten at 22, Grades 1-3 at 24, and are "not to exceed" 30 in Grades 4-12, unless deemed appropriate by the principal or superintendent. Unlike previous legislation, however, principals are not required to consult with teachers when raising their class sizes above 30 students.

Unsatisfied with the current bargaining process' ability to change Bill 22, the BCTF is once again taking the B.C. government to court.

"Because this government has completely failed to deal with the repercussions of last year’s ruling, we have to go back to court," reads a statement from BCTF President Susan Lambert in a press release issued this morning.

"Given the ruling, we believed that we had regained the right to bargain class size, class composition, and the provision of services by specialist teachers, and thereby drive much-needed funding back into our public school system. But government refused to recognize the decision and yet another year of cuts has further eroded the quality of services to students."

*A spokesman for the Ministry of Education said the ministry stands by the comments it made after the introduction of Bill 22: "It's government's view that the introduction of Bill 22, and the consultations leading up to the introduction, met the requirements set out in Madam Justice Griffin's decision set out in April 2011. But as the matter is proceeding to the courts, it would be inappropriate to comment any further."

The case is set for the BC Supreme Court on December 3-6, 2012.

Katie Hyslop reports on education and youth issues for The Tyee Solutions Society.

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