Teachers win restoration of class-size and composition provisions and $2 million in damages, court says government wanted to provoke strike

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TEACHERS across BC are celebrating Monday’s ruling by the BC Supreme Court, reaffirming that provincial legislation limiting teachers’ bargaining rights is unconstitutional, restoring collective agreement provisions stripped in 2002, and ordering the province to pay $2 million in damages plus court costs.

“I’m very happy today,” said B.C. Teachers Federation President Jim Iker. “This is the end of a long and costly legal battle for the teachers of BC. It’s a great day for democracy, and for all working people across BC and Canada.”

Iker noted that the legislation was already declared unconstitutional in 2011, and the judge gave government one year to rectify the situation. However, government simply reintroduced the same unconstitutional provisions.

By removing class-size limits and class-composition guarantees, the government did significant damage to learning conditions in schools across the province.

“Children who were in Kindergarten when those bills were passed are now in Grade 12, and have spent their entire school careers in larger classes with fewer resources,” he said. “For the past 12 years, thousands of children couldn’t get the services they needed because government broke the law.”

The legislation removed provisions that guaranteed smaller classes, support for students with special needs, and services from teacher-librarians, counsellors, and other specialists. Government then cut hundreds of millions of dollars a year from public education budgets, forcing school boards to cut programs and close more than 200 public schools. More than 3,500 teaching positions, including 1,500 specialist teachers, were also cut.

“If government had respected the Charter, teachers would not have had to spend the past dozen years fighting for our rights,” Iker said. “Now we expect that government will do everything necessary to demonstrate respect for the court’s ruling and make the situation right. Restore our smaller classes, rehire our specialist colleagues, and help us rebuild the excellent public education system that British Columbians expect for their children.”

The full judgment can be found at:

http://www.courts.gov.bc.ca/jdb-txt/SC/14/01/2014BCSC0121.htm

MEANWHILE, the NDP said that this ruling proves Premier Christy Clark and the B.C. Liberals chose politics over students for over a decade.

“Premier Clark and the Liberal government have been playing politics with the quality of education for our children,” said New Democrat Education Critic Rob Fleming. “It proves they would rather provoke strikes than improve classroom education.”

Original legislation that paved the way for larger classes and reduced special needs supports was struck down in 2011 by the courts at which time the premier said, “Clearly it wasn’t the right bill. The Supreme Court told us that and we are going to have to address that. And we’re going to have to make sure that we get on a different footing with the teachers’ union.”

Monday’s decision shows the premier was disingenuous. Justice Griffin said in Monday’s ruling that the Liberal government “did not negotiate in good faith” and instead were preoccupied with a strategy to “provoke a strike.”

“The premier was centre stage in 2002 when this mess began,” said Fleming. “Christy Clark was the education minister when Bill 28 was imposed showing that her pattern of playing political games instead of doing what is best for our kids and families goes right back to her first time in government.”

“This supposed family-first premier has shown her true colours – that children and parents weren’t her priority ten years ago and still aren’t her priority today. Today is a victory for B.C. families. Once again this government has been reprimanded by the courts for not taking public education seriously.”