Alberta has appointed its first-ever commissioner to oversee disciplinary matters for teachers and is seeking public input to create a new code of conduct for teachers and teacher leaders.
On Thursday Alberta Education appointed lawyer Julia Sproule as commissioner who will be in charge of resolving all conduct and competency complaints.
The province says its new Alberta Teaching Profession Commission will bring Alberta in line with best practices in other provinces. Currently, Alberta is the only province where a teachers union handles all complaints of alleged unprofessional conduct and competence made against its active members.
“The role of the arm’s-length commissioner is integral to the accountability and transparency of the new teacher and teacher leader disciplinary process. The legal expertise and senior leadership capability Ms. Sproule brings to the table, along with her knowledge of the education system, are great assets for this important role,” said Education Minister Adriana LaGrange in a statement.
The Alberta Teaching Profession Commission will begin addressing complaints on Jan. 1, 2023. Commission investigators, professional assurance officers and administrative professionals will be recruited this fall.
The Alberta Teachers’ Association (ATA) said it had no role in the selection of the commissioner, or any advance indication of who was selected by the minister for this critical position.
“We note that Ms. Sproule has a legal background that may be useful in her new role and are prepared to work with her. However, we would be curious to know about her prior involvement in public education and her understanding of the complex realities of teachers’ professional lives and responsibilities,” the ATA said in a statement.
“We hope that she will be able to chart a principled and independent path forward in her new role.”
Sproule most recently practised law at Wiebe Wittman Robertson LLP and previously served as the associate vice-president of operations at Legal Aid Alberta, and in-house counsel for government and the oil and gas industry.
This week the province also announced a new online survey — www.alberta.ca/new-teacher-code-of-conduct-engagement.aspx — to get public feedback for a new code of conduct for teachers.
There are currently two codes of conduct for teachers and teacher leaders. One is for members of the ATA, and one for those who are not.
The province says a unified code of professional conduct will include the best and most effective features of both codes.
The survey must be completed by Oct. 7.
The ATA says despite its well-founded skepticism about the survey, it encouraged all teachers to respond and to make their voices heard.
“The association is concerned that this survey, much like its other ‘consultations’ on curriculum or on other issues, is predominantly political in nature and designed to distract from the real challenges facing public education today,” the ATA said.
“Association staff have highlighted serious concerns with the survey, notably the confusion of conduct issues with competence, and the potential for the government’s code to diminish teachers’ professional judgment in favour of enforcing abject compliance with the employer’s and government’s directives.”
Erin Allin, issues manager with the Education Minister’s office, said in addition to the survey, the government continues to engage with a broad spectrum of key education system stakeholders who will provide valuable feedback and insight on the unified code of professional conduct.
Stakeholders include: the ATA, the Association of Alberta Public Charter Schools, the Alberta School Boards Association, the College of Alberta School Superintendents, the Association of Independent Schools and Colleges in Alberta, and the Association of Alberta Deans of Education.
Consultations have also included victim advocacy groups including the Association of Alberta Sexual Assault Services, the Sexual Assault Centre of Edmonton, the Central Alberta Child Advocacy Centre and the Respect Group Inc.