Alberta’s education minister has announced the Alberta Teacher’s Association will lose its disciplinary abilities in the wake of a lawsuit involving multiple sexual abuse allegations against a former teacher.
Minister of Education Adriana LaGrange said in a statement earlier this week the ATA “failed to protect students from a predatory teacher,” in reference to former Calgary teacher Michael Gregory, who took his own life after being charged with 17 counts of abusive behaviour.
A $40 million class action lawsuit was filed last week against the Calgary Board of Education and the estate of Michael Gregory.
“I was also appalled that the Alberta Teachers’ Association did not believe they had an obligation to report its disciplinary findings to police,” said LaGrange, who also serves as Red Deer-North MLA.
“They chose to solely rely on a disciplinary process that recommended only a two-year suspension for admitted child abuse. We will never know what the results of a full, timely criminal investigation could have been.”
Jason Schilling, ATA president, said LaGrange is “spinning” a 15-year-old case as cover for an attack on teachers.
“We consider this an attack on public education (and) on the association in a year we’ve seen teachers going above and beyond to keep our schools afloat in the middle of a pandemic,” Schilling told The Advocate on Friday.
Schilling emphasized that the CBE is being sued for its inaction, not the ATA.
“In this case, only one party did the job it was supposed to do, and that was the Alberta Teachers’ Association. As a result of our processes, this teacher was removed from the profession and never taught again,” Schilling said, adding the nature of many of the allegations that surfaced more recently were not part of the case heard by the professional conduct hearing committee in 2006.
The claim that this is an attack on teachers is “ridiculous” LaGrange told The Advocate Friday.
“The vast majority of teachers, we all know, are amazing, caring individuals and will never have to go through the disciplinary process,” said LaGrange.
“This is about doing the right thing for the right reasons, and the right this is ensuring (something is done to fix) this system that has been in existence for a very long time.”
LaGrange said she plans to bring forward an order-in-council to immediately implement a provision in the Students First Act, which will require the ATA to notify the registrar at Alberta Education of all complaints about their members when they are received.
Additionally, LaGrange said she has directed her department to begin drafting legislation for the spring to separate the teacher disciplinary process from the ATA’s mandate and functions.
“It is now abundantly clear that the ATA can no longer act as the investigator and the prosecutor for complaints against its members. This obvious conflict of interest has made Alberta an outlier. All other provinces and territories follow either an arm’s-length or government-operated model for teacher discipline,” said LaGrange.
Schilling said teachers have no trust in LaGrange as minister.
“Teachers see the minister’s comments (Thursday) and the plan that she’s going to put forward next spring as something that is disrespectful to the association,” he said.
Schilling said the Government of Alberta itself failed to report the case to police when it received the report of the teacher’s conviction of unprofessional conduct in an ATA disciplinary hearing.
The government’s own process is “completely devoid of transparency” and includes recent cases of superintendents and private school teachers who have been allowed by the Minister of Education to abuse people and continue in the profession, Schilling added.
The Alberta Federation of Labour issued a statement Friday, saying the “UCP’s recent attack on the ATA isn’t really about protecting students; it’s about trying to discredit an organization that has been a vocal and effective critic of the UCP’s disastrous COVID-19 response; its backward ideological curriculum; and its dangerous cuts to public education.”