After 12 hours of passionate and articulate arguments from Manitoba educators, the government made important changes to Bill 35–The Education Administration Amendment Act, including the expressed right to representation during a hearing.
More than 40 educators from across the province spoke at the bill’s standing committee hearing using personal–at times deeply painful examples to illustrate their numerous concerns with the legislation ranging from the broad definition of misconduct and the inclusion of competency in a misconduct framework to the lack of representation at hearings and a disciplinary panel composed of primarily non-teachers.
Speaking in French, Desirée Pappel, president of Association des éducatrices et éducateurs franco-manitobains (AEFM) and the first presenter on Bill 35, said that she is very concerned that her colleagues who were educated outside of Canada will be disproportionately targeted by the inclusion of teacher competence in this legislation.
“I have already seen a colleague accused of being unfit by parents, simply because his teaching style was different from what they experienced in their youth–some 20 or 30 years prior–in the Manitoba system,” said Pappel. “An unintended consequence of this may be that our students, instead of being protected, will be limited–because they are prevented from having the experience of learning from teachers with different styles from other countries, which some people want to call unfit.”
Nicole Bobick, president of the Swan Valley Teachers’ Association, agreed that teacher competency did not belong in this legislation and said that competency is something that grows over time when appropriately nurtured and supported.
“A teacher should be supported to grow and feel comfortable asking questions about how to improve their skills,” said Bobick. “When teacher misconduct and teacher competency are grouped together with protecting children from child abuse, as they are in Bill 35, the trust of protection and fair process is lost. Fear replaces that trust as teachers may not want to be open anymore about the areas they need to improve upon.”
Tammy Tutkaluk, president of the Brandon Teachers’ Association (BTA), spoke about the strong commitment to professional learning and development by educators in her Local.
“This year, over 101 teachers out of the 750, used BTA funds to take professional development opportunities to improve their teaching,” said Tutkaluk. “Teachers always want to continue to improve, to do better, to learn more. We are lifelong learners.”
Over the two nights of presentations, each concluding at the stroke of midnight, many educators spoke about their fear that this bill opens the door to special interest groups dictating what can and cannot be taught in the classroom with the unqualified inclusion of “significant emotional harm” under the definition of “misconduct.”
“It feels like it’s sneaking in Florida with its empty bookshelves, whitewashed history and can’t-say-gay rules,” said Tara Law, a teacher with the Louis Riel School Division. “We’ve worked so hard in our division to celebrate diversity in all its forms. Can this bill allow parents to disagree with us, based on significant emotional harm, and silence us and the beautiful members of our classroom?”
Katie Hurst, a Winnipeg teacher, said that the purpose of schools is to support students in learning to be learners, to learn their strengths and to use their strengths to benefit themselves and others and the world around them.
“Schools are not simply meant to teach what parents want their children to know,” said Hurst. “Public schools are meant to teach learners what society needs them to know.”
The government did not budge on the repeated requests to define “significant emotional harm” as it relates to misconduct. It remains under the definition of misconduct and leaves the door open to subjective interpretations which can be based on value-laden and biased perspectives.
Presenters like Catherine Hart took the minister to task over his assurances that “frivolous, vexatious and malicious” complaints will be dismissed by the commissioner.
“I’m seeing attacks on transgender people. I’m seeing books banned and removed from libraries. I’m seeing all kinds of vexatious complaints being given so much more merit than I ever thought they would be,” said Hart. “We were directed to take down all our Pride flags in June 2021. This was not dismissed as a vexatious complaint. It was treated as having merit. The person who made the complaint referenced their patriotism. I know from the conversations I had with the kids in our GSA that they did not feel safe in school that day we took down the Pride flags.”
With the inclusion of teacher competency in the bill, the composition of the hearing panel is crucial, as those tasked with making judgements about teacher competence must have the knowledge and expertise necessary to do so.
“Look up the governance makeup of professional law societies, colleges of physicians, surgeons, nurses, and social workers. They’re regulating themselves because they know what they’re doing,” said Gus Watanabe. “The majority of people sitting in governance positions should be professional educators. And when I hear some say we can’t trust educators to help themselves or to police themselves, I wonder why doctors and lawyers don’t hear those same things. It’s because not everyone’s been a doctor or a lawyer, but everyone’s been a student.”
Unfortunately, the government was not open to altering the makeup of the panel or removing competency from the bill. However, the bill was amended to include specific language to confirm that consultations will occur with “representatives of teachers, employers of teachers, teachers, and any other persons the minister considers appropriate” when establishing the competence standards that a teacher must meet to be issued and maintain a teaching certificate.
Cari Satran, a Grade 8 teacher in the Seven Oaks School Division, said that the bill was “a nice big smoke screen” and that the real problem with safety is poverty and inadequate resources to support student needs.
“I have six kids who have trouble getting to school every single day, and when they come, it’s often because the only meal they’re getting is at school,” said Satran. “Ask me how much money I’ve spent on groceries. Ask me how much money I’ve spent on school supplies. Ask me how much clothing I brought to school, aside from doing United Way and Koats for Kids. If this Conservative government cared about safety in schools, then the funding would be given to schools.”
Educators also participated in the process by sending written submissions to the bill’s standing committee. Forty written submissions were received. Education Minister Wayne Ewasko said the amendments were a direct result of feedback received during the committee hearings.
Bill 35 will be read a third time in the legislature and, if passed before June 1, will come into force on a date to be fixed by proclamation.
Manitoba Education has informed us that it will come into force in stages through “selective proclamation”, meaning that implementation of the individual pieces will be staggered.
The parts the bill related to establishing the commissioner and their supporting office will be proclaimed first, along with those related to the teacher registry and the provisions that deal with teacher misconduct. This portion is expected to be in place by the fall of 2024. The existing processes will be in place until such time, including the Certificate Review Committee.
The Department of Education will also be consulting with MTS and other stakeholders to inform the development of competence standards. The section of Bill 35 that relates to competence will be proclaimed after the standards are written. Competence issues will be reviewed by the commissioner once this process has been completed.
We will keep you updated throughout the process.
– Originally published in the Spring 2023 issue of the MB Teacher
Samantha Turenne is a writer for the MB Teacher magazine and the Public Affairs Facilitator for The Manitoba Teachers’ Society.