Education Minister Adriana LaGrange says all kindergarten to Grade 12 students, other than some in northern Alberta, can return to schools following the May long weekend. (Photo from Government of Alberta)

LaGrange: Bill 15 ensures unbiased process of discipline

On May 4, I was proud that Bill 15 – the Education (Reforming Teacher Profession Discipline) Amendment Act had successfully passed third reading. With this Act, we will be able to ensure a transparent and unbiased process of discipline for all teachers and teacher leaders in Alberta. Starting in January 2023, the Alberta Teaching Profession Commission will receive all teachers and teacher leaders’ conduct and competency complaints, oversee the investigation process, and ensure hearings occur through a third-party objective lens.

The discipline process for teachers and teacher leaders in Alberta was long overdue for an update, in fact the previous disciplinary process has been in place since 1937. This is something I heard repeatedly from families, victims and victim’s advocacy groups. For example, Kelly Schneider, a former student at John Ware junior high school in Calgary said in an April 1st op ed that “The ATA’s policy failed me as a student and, had it been changed, could have prevented many other victims of sexual assault.” After reviewing what is happening in other provinces, engaging with stakeholders, including the Alberta Teachers’ Association, and receiving feedback from teachers, students and parents; we knew it was undeniable that the time to modernize was now

Currently, Alberta is the only Canadian province where the teachers’ union has sole responsibility, set out in legislation, to deal with discipline of their active members. This new legislation and arms length process focuses on student safety and public assurance. It also strengthens the teaching profession and unites it under one transparent process.

Contrary to misinformation trying to discredit Bill 15, it is not an attempt to “punish” or “attack” the ATA or teachers in general. The fact is, most members of the teaching profession will never experience the disciplinary process and, by removing any perception of conflict of interest where a union simultaneously advocates and oversees disciplinary action for its members, we are offering a consistent, effective and efficient process of discipline that serves in the public’s best interest.

Additionally, Bill 15 also reaffirms requirements in legislation for education partners to report to the police, if there may have been any serious harm or threat to a student caused by a teacher or teacher leader. These safety standards are in alignment and enhance the longstanding requirements set out in the Child, Youth and Family Enhancement Act. Next steps include an open application process for the recruitment of the commissioner and the recruitment of public and teacher members to participate on the hearing panels. To ensure a smooth transition to the new model, we will implement transitional regulations. This will ensure procedural fairness and an efficient transition. The responsibilities to the commissioner and new hearing panel will shift in January 2023 but the hearings already in progress will continue in accordance with the rules under which they were started.

As I have said numerous times; most Albertan families, teachers and teacher leaders will never have to undergo the disciplinary process. As the vast majority of teachers and teacher leaders are outstanding and dedicated professionals who put student’s best interest first. However, when there is a case of unprofessional conduct or professional incompetence, everyone should feel assured knowing there is an unbiased, fair, transparent process that can be accessed in a timely manner. I would like to sincerely thank everyone including various stakeholders, advocacy groups, parents, teachers and students for their support and feedback in making Bill 15 a reality.

Adriana LaGrange is the Alberta Minister of Education and MLA for Red Deer- North.