Alberta Education Minister Adriana LaGrange announced more learning supports for students who have fallen behind because of the pandemic. )Advocate file photo/THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jason Franson).

Alberta Education Minister Adriana LaGrange announced more learning supports for students who have fallen behind because of the pandemic. )Advocate file photo/THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jason Franson).

Adriana LaGrange: New act to protect students coming

Fourteen years ago, as a newly elected school board trustee in Red Deer, I began hearing concerns about the lack of transparency in teacher disciplinary process. Now, as Alberta’s Minister of Education, I hear these same concerns from students and parents across the province.

While the overwhelming majority of teachers in the province are dedicated and caring professionals, we know that cases of inappropriate or even dangerous conduct do happen–and sometimes those cases involve a student.

In 2019, an extremely concerning case crossed my desk in which a teacher was found guilty of inappropriately touching five young students, and only a two year suspension was recommended. Finding this unacceptable, I overturned the recommendation and handed down a lifetime teaching ban.

Stemming from this incident, I instructed my department to do a review of the discipline process for educators.

It quickly became very clear that the current discipline process does not put Alberta’s students first. Cases are dealt with away from the public’s view, and often take years to be settled after a complaint is made.

As the Minister of Education, I have been made aware of cases where educators commit disgusting and abusive offenses against children. It’s heartbreaking for me to read about these situations, knowing the long term affects of students who have suffered though this.

Yet, current legislation prohibits the government and myself from informing the public. In fact, the government isn’t even made aware of complaints against teachers until the hearing takes place which, again, can take years.

Children spend the majority of their days at school – it is only natural for parents to want to know who their children are spending that time with and who is educating them. As a mother myself, I strongly believe that parents deserve to know if their child’s teacher has been found guilty of unprofessional conduct or professional incompetence.

Alberta’s current legislation is lagging behind. BC, Ontario and Saskatchewan all have public registries where parents can easily check the status of their child’s teacher’s certificate.

Most Albertans would also be surprised to learn that, currently, there is no legislated requirement for teachers to undergo a criminal record and vulnerable sector check. A majority of school divisions recognize the importance of this, and often conduct these checks when hiring, but there is no uniform or standard approach across the province.

We should all agree that our students need to come first. More can and should be done to ensure our students are learning in respectful environments by vetted, professional educators who are in schools for the right reasons.

That is why, I will be introducing the Students First Act in Alberta’s Legislature next week.

I have the utmost respect for teachers and their profession and that’s exactly why I am introducing this legislation. Not only will it protect students and ensure parents are informed – it will safeguard the integrity of the teaching profession and uphold the high standard Alberta’s educators are know for. Change is coming, and that change will keep our students safe, parents informed and teachers accountable.

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