Jason Schilling

Opinion: Disciplinary process for our province’s public education teachers

A recent opinion article by former minister of education Jeff Johnson, printed in the Red Deer Advocate on Dec. 14, had some inaccurate suggestions in my opinion.

This opinion piece also touches on the same topic: disciplinary process for our province’s public education teachers.

1. “ … to lodge a complaint, you will have to call that teacher’s association,” wrote Johnson. This would be false.

First and foremost, if you believe your child is being abused, whether it be at school or anywhere else, you should immediately contact the police. While complaints of any nature against a teacher may be lodged with either the school division or the Alberta Teachers’ Association (ATA), the complainant should also report any alleged criminal behaviour to legal authorities for investigation in their arena.

2. “ … the association alone will decide if it warrants an investigation.” False.

By law, the ATA must investigate all the complaints it receives. Articles 25 and 26 of the Teaching Profession Act (TPA), the legislation that governs the ATA, states that the ATA executive secretary shall refer all complaints to an investigator within 30 days of receiving them, and that investigator must, within 30 days, initiate an investigation into the complaint.

3. “ … the same association that is prosecuting will also be defending the teacher.” False.

No member of the ATA defends or represents the investigated teacher at a professional conduct hearing. The investigated teacher may hire their own counsel to present their case, if they wish (article 32 of the TPA).

4. “Did I mention there will be no public disclosure of the findings or process?” False.

The decision of a hearing committee must be available to the public upon request and free of charge (TPA article 47(4) ). The hearing itself is open to any member of the public who wishes to attend (TPA article 33). After the investigation is complete, a recommendation is made to the minister of education about the teacher’s certificate, because that discretion rests with the minister alone.

5. “And a typical recommended sentence if found guilty? A two-year suspension.” False.

In more serious cases involving students, an expulsion is much more common than a suspension. In 2020, we issued seven expulsions and just one suspension. But let me be clear: a suspension is a very serious sentence that ends a teacher’s career. Once suspended, you lose your job and the suspension is placed on your permanent record. No board would want to hire you again. But even if they did, you would need to apply to the ATA to have your membership reinstated to be eligible to teach in a public, separate or francophone school division—even years after the suspension had lapsed. Only one teacher has ever successfully done that, and they were only suspended because they had failed to pay a previous fine.

But the question on many people’s minds these days, including that of the former education minister, is who should be heading up this complicated process. Do we want it overseen by an organization that, for over a century, has developed a consistent, transparent process—or should it be moved over to a ministry that sees a different leadership every time there’s a cabinet shuffle or change in governing party?

I see no sense in scrapping a system that has worked well for over a hundred years, only to start from scratch. If the former minister truly understood the system he governed, perhaps he would agree.

Jason Schilling is the president of the Alberta Teachers’ Association.