The Supreme Court of Canada today dismissed an application by the BC Public School Employers’ Association to appeal a BC Court of Appeal ruling that upheld teachers’ rights to inform parents of their concerns about class size and composition, and education funding cuts.
BCTF President Jinny Sims said teachers will be delighted to hear the news. “We are very pleased the courts have affirmed our position: that as teachers we have a legal right and professional duty to speak out about issues affecting the quality of public education,” Sims said. “After all, who would be in a better position than teachers to bring these concerns to the attention of parents and the public?”
The case goes back to 2002, when the BC Liberals legislatively imposed the teachers’ contract for the first time, and began making cuts that eventually left school boards facing funding shortfalls in excess of $300 million.
To highlight the impact on classroom conditions, teachers distributed cards to parents that reported their children’s class sizes before and after the government stripped firm limits from the collective agreement. In addition, teachers mounted posters on bulletin boards with information on reductions in staffing of specialist teachers, such as librarians and counsellors.
After some school boards attempted to prohibit teachers from distributing the class-size cards or posters, the BCTF launched a provincial grievance. Arbitrator Don Munroe, QC, ruled that school boards had indeed violated teachers’ right to free expression under the Charter of Rights, and that such interference was not justified in a free and democratic society.
The employers’ association challenged his ruling at the BC Court of Appeal, but that court reaffirmed that teachers’ free expression is protected by the Charter. Finally, BCPSEA applied for leave to appeal to the Supreme Court of Canada, which was denied, with costs to the BCTF.
“This case illustrates to what lengths the employer is willing to go to try to prevent parents from hearing about the realities in our classrooms,” Sims said. “We are very grateful for the moderating influence of the courts on the employers’ extreme agenda, and that BCPSEA won’t be allowed to spend any more tax dollars on silencing the voices of teachers.”