Teachers Call for More Resources for Students

The 84th Annual Council of the Nova Scotia Teachers Union wrapped up Sunday in Halifax. Over two-and-a-half days, some 250 voting delegates debated more than 100 resolutions dealing with issues ranging from more resources for the province’s classrooms to the health of teachers and students.

“Even with the additional monies for education in this year’s provincial budget, Nova Scotia still has a long way to
go to catch up to public education funding levels in the rest of Canada,” says NSTU president Mary-Lou Donnelly. “Per-student funding for education has been at or near the bottom of all Canadian provinces and territories for too many years. The system is showing the strain and teachers, on the front-line of education, are feeling the strain. Our students deserve better. They deserve the same educational opportunities as other Canadian children.”

Several resolutions specifically addressed the need for more resources in support of students with special needs.

“NSTU members are concerned that government has not committed sufficient funds to fulfil the requirements of its special education policy,” says Donnelly. “While we welcome the promise of more specialists and support for inclusion contained in the recent provincial budget, the need for more professional development and time for individual program planning is obvious to teachers working in the classrooms of this province.”

Also of concern to delegates was the amount of out-of pocket expenses teachers face in providing classroom resources. Delegates passed a resolution calling upon the NSTU to lobby the province for a reasonable tax credit for teachers who pay for needed classroom supplies. The government of Prince Edward Island recently introduced a similar credit for that province’s teachers.

The NSTU will also lobby the provincial department of health to consider teachers as being in the high risk category for influenza and therefore eligible for free vaccinations.

Delegates also took the opportunity to praise government on one of its measures. Teachers resoundingly affirmed their support for an initiative to provide healthy food choices in schools across the province.

Delegates unanimously re-elected Alexis Allen as NSTU first vice-president for a second one-year term. Allen teaches history at Lockview High School in Fall River.

NWTTA Accepts Agreement

Teachers employed by the Government of the Northwest Territories voted in favour to accept the tentative agreement reached between the NWTTA and the GNWT.

Members of the GNWT Bargaining Unit voted eighty-five percent (85%) to accept the agreement. Eighty-eight percent (88%) of eligible voters cast ballots.

Negotiations began March 6-8, 2005 and culminated on April 27, 2005 when the two sides reached a tentative agreement.

Highlights of the three year contract are increases to salary and northern allowances, principal’s base and minimum, increased language allowance, more money in professional development for Aboriginal language proficiency. Improvements were also made in substitute teacher’s pay, special leave, and qualification time for access to dental care, among others.

Amanda Mallon, President of the NWTTA says, “ The GNWT Teacher Welfare Committee was able to reach a reasonable agreement. Our membership, through the large percentage of positive votes, has indicated their support of this agreement. A number of our members indicated ongoing concerns with living and teaching situations and this was also reflected in the percentage of rejected votes.

I am very pleased with the voting results. The NWTTA looks forward to continuing to work with the GNWT and Department of Education, Culture and Employment to provide educators and students with the best possible working and learning conditions.”

Teachers Ratify New Provincial Contract

Saskatchewan teachers, who have been without a contract since last August, have voted 61.2% in favour of a new collective agreement with the provincial government and boards of education. The term of the agreement, which replaces the previous contract that expired last August, is September 1, 2004 to August 31, 2007.

The new agreement provides across the board salary increases of two percent in each of its three years. An additional experience increment beginning in the 15 th year of teaching, increases to allowances for principals and vice-principals and improved health plan funding are also key elements of the contract.

“While no collective agreement can completely satisfy 12,000 individuals, the majority of our members across the province felt the agreement was acceptable. We believe this contract benefits teachers now, while creating a base we can build on as we continue to address important issues such as retention, recruitment and bringing the compensation of Saskatchewan teachers more in line with their counterparts in other provinces,” said Federation President Murray Wall.

The collective agreement covers over 12,000 teachers in the province’s public and separate schools.

Record Numbers Elect New YTA President

Educators attending the 50th Annual General Meeting Saturday April 30th recorded the highest attendance in YTA collective memory. 73% of the 700 YTA members participated in person or by proxy. The AGM selected a new president and decided on many issues including a combination of budgets totaling more than threequarters of a million dollars in cash flow.

President Oostindie said that he would like to take some credit for the record attendance as he promotes the importance of the AGM. He added that “three members who ran for the position of president really worked at bringing members to the meeting as well.”

The AGM elected educator Sandra Henderson who has taught for 25 years in Yukon and 50 years in total. President-elect Henderson promised to be firm with the direction of YTA in the next year. Henderson will commence duties mid-July after meeting with other delegates of the 200,000 members of the Canadian Teachers’ Federation (CTF). She will attend these meetings with current president, Oostindie.

Speaking to the assembly, Larry Booi of the CTF shared some of the successful achievements across the country including how Ontario teachers re-established 200 minutes of lesson preparation time each week. Since many educators are recruited from other parts of Canada, it important that Yukon reflect the best learning conditions from across Canada.

The Minister of Education addressed the assembly and was congratulated for his advocacy on behalf of the needs of children and schools. The Minister was asked by President Oostindie to look into the growing number of educators who work on temporary assignments. “This year more than 20% of Yukon teachers and paraprofessionals in schools are on term assignments and face ‘silent lay-offs’ this June. One school has no permanently hired educational assistants yet the community recognizes such a great need that they have hired an extra aid for their children,” says Oostindie. The Minister committed to looking into the temporary assignments
made by the Department.

The AGM approved a reduction of fees as the Association is in excellent fiscal condition. Treasurer Paul Nordahl presented the surplus budget to the AGM. “The YTA is a major contributor to the Yukon economy with over three-quarters of a million dollars spent on Yukon salaries and services. We own our own property, rent to local businesses and carry many other assets’” added Oostindie.

The Association looks forward to next year’s negotiations between YTG and the Association. The previous contract was settled expeditiously and the Association hopes that the future agreements can be made in that manner again. Better salaries will keep highly qualified staff in our classrooms and a good professional contract should also be used as a tool to improve children’s learning conditions. Employment Relations Chair, Cully Robinson was acclaimed to continue his work to support these efforts.

Other members of the new Executive taking charge next school year include; vice-president, Carrie-Lyn Robinson; treasurer, Linda Augustine; membership chair, Peter Menzies; member-at-large, Peter Giangrande; constitution and policy, Sharon Nehring-Willson; professional development, David Webber. All of the Executive members have worked in rural Yukon and three currently work in Tantalus school. This will bring a rich flavour to the Executive that should meet the needs of the YTA.

Teachers Call for Commission on Child Protection

The B.C. Teachers’ Federation is urging the provincial government to establish a Commission on Child Protection.

“Clearly, recent events have highlighted the serious problems that can arise when established protocols are not followed,” said Jinny Sims, president of the BCTF. “We need people from across the education community, the social services sector, and the child advocacy area to work together to ensure all children and students are protected from exploitation — whether they’re at school, at home, or in the community.”

This morning Sims will present the proposal to the Education Advisory Committee, a body chaired by Deputy Minister Emery Dosdall and including education leaders from all partner groups. They are meeting this morning at Simon Fraser’s downtown campus.

The proposed Commission on Child Protection would investigate and report on actions necessary to ensure children are protected from physical harm or sexual abuse. The commission would have a broad mandate to consider existing procedures in the School Act, the Teaching Profession Act and the Child, Family and Community Service Act. Thus, it will be able to provide comprehensive and considered advice to the Minister of Education and the Minister of Children and Family Development.

“Teachers firmly believe such a broad review is necessary,” Sims said. “There are two key reasons: the evident confusion and lack of enforcement by school boards of existing safeguards and reporting procedures, and Liberal legislative changes that reduced protection for children by weakening requirements to report.”

In 2002, without consultation, Gordon Hogg, then-Minister of Children and Family Development, introduced amendments to the Child, Family and Community Service Act that reduced protection afforded to children. The previous legislation required anyone with reason to believe a child is at risk of abuse to promptly report it to the proper authorities. The amendment required anyone with concerns to report only “if the child’s parent is unwilling or unable to protect the child.”

The BCTF Executive Committee passed a motion in opposition to the amendments in Bill 17, noting the lack of consultation with teachers, as well as the failure of the ministry to communicate the changes to those who work with children. The then-BCTF president wrote to Hogg, expressing grave concerns:

“This letter is to express our profound disappointment with your decision to make changes to child protection laws which will, in our view, reduce the protection afforded to children….

“While this change may appear superficial to those who do not work with children and parents, the practical implications are profound….

“The weakening of the obligation to report cases of suspected child abuse can only have the effect of increasing the risk to children. The impact of the changes is likely to be an increase in the amount of unreported child abuse….”

Despite teachers’ pleas, the government did not reconsider the ill-advised amendments, which were ultimately passed and now form part of the Child Protection Act. Soon after, teachers reported being instructed not to report child welfare or abuse issues to the Ministry of Children and Family Development, but rather to discuss them first with parents — even if a parent was the suspected abuser. They were told only to report if it appeared the child’s parent was unwilling or unable to do so.

“The legislation clearly weakened the protection for kids, and put the onus on teachers to confront parents or guardians with these very serious matters that put families into crisis. Yet there was to be no connection or support from the ministry. It was not right for kids, and not good practice for schools,” said Sims, an experienced high school counsellor.

Sims said teachers tried to impress upon the government that the negative impact of the Bill 17 was compounded by cuts in social services and by the Liberals’ decision to cut guarantees of school counsellors from the teachers’ contract.

“Children who are being abused often disclose to a trusted teacher or counsellor,” said Sims. “But since the Liberal policies have taken effect, many students have lost access to school counsellors.”

The BCTF has for some time been working to educate its own members about the legal and moral requirements to report evidence of harm or abuse, and about the duty to always maintain a professional distance in relationships between teachers and students.

The BCTF promotes a workshop available to schools through its professional development program. The workshop helps school staffs identify the appropriate boundaries between students and teachers, highlights the importance of child safety and protection issues, and reviews the procedures for reporting on these issues.

Sims is suggesting that this workshop, or similar professional initiatives, should be part of teacher training programs at universities, and should also be made available by employers to all in-service teachers. “We would be pleased to work with universities and employers to make this workshop available more widely,” she said.

“Teachers support all efforts to eliminate potential harm to students, but we really believe a comprehensive approach to the issue is essential. Let’s do it right, and do right by the kids in the process,” Sims said.

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BCTF Contributes $50,000 to Tsunami Relief

The B.C. Teachers’ Federation has pledged $50,000 to the Education International Tsunami Relief Program. The funds will go towards immediate humanitarian relief for teachers, students, and their families hit by the devastating tsunamis.

In addition, the BCTF leaders have committed to developing a longer-term plan for involvement in the reconstruction of schools and public education in the stricken regions.

“Like so many people around the world, we were shaken by the massive scope of the devastation, and moved to take action,” said BCTF President Jinny Sims. “Teachers all over B.C. have made donations as individuals and now are working with thousands of students to raise additional funds for the relief effort. But we also know our members would want us, as a Federation, to make significant ongoing efforts to help students, teachers, and families rebuild their schools and communities.”

Sims noted that children are the most vulnerable in the wake of the catastrophe. Thousands have been killed, thousands more are orphaned and homeless. There are disturbing reports of children being trafficked across borders. “The sooner we can get schools re-opened, the sooner we can begin helping survivors deal with the trauma and loss they have suffered,” Sims said.

Education International estimate at least 10,000 teachers are among the tsunami victims. At least 2,000 teachers are reported missing in the northern Indonesian province of Aceh alone. With more than 1,000 schools destroyed, 140,000 elementary students and 20,000 secondary school students have nowhere to learn. Emergency schools will be set up in tents located near the refugee camps.

According to the Ministry of Education of Sri Lanka, more than 80,000 children and 3,000 teachers are displaced. Up to 60 schools were completely damaged, and 110 schools were partially damaged with all school furniture and equipment destroyed. A large number of schools are now used to house the refugees.

For more information on the Education International campaign and for updates on the extent of damage to the education systems in the affected countries, please go to: www.ei-ie.org/tsunami/en/.