Question: I understand that the Alberta government will soon be taking over the Alberta Teachers’ Association’s discipline processes, so what does that mean for teachers and their association?
Answer: The proclamation of Bill 15, the Education (Reforming Teacher Profession Discipline) Amendment Act, on May 31, 2022, set into motion a process for creating the office of the Alberta teaching profession commissioner to oversee teacher and teacher leader conduct and competency complaints for the profession.
In accordance with the act, beginning in the new year, the commissioner will be assuming responsibility for the professional regulation of teachers and the enforcement of a code of professional conduct and practice that will be set by the minister of education. Any new complaints about alleged unprofessional conduct or practice must then be directed to the teaching profession commissioner.
As part of the incredibly complex transfer process mandated by the provincial government, the Association will complete hearings initiated prior to Jan. 1, 2023. Investigations initiated and already under way under the auspices of the Association prior to that date will be completed by the Association, with reports turned over to the commissioner for further action if and as she determines.
The Association is, to the best of its ability, expected to complete outstanding investigations by June 30, 2023. Any investigations that remain ongoing will then be handed over to the commissioner for completion, although the commissioner may request extensions.
Where a complaint has been received and a “preliminary investigation” ordered but not commenced before Jan. 1, 2023, responsibility for the preliminary investigation will be transferred to the commissioner.
The government’s regulatory processes will apply not just to active members of the Association but to all certificated teachers in the province, including teachers, school leaders, central office staff and superintendents in public, separate, francophone, charter and private schools and systems. They will be subject to a new code of professional conduct and practice that, as I am drafting this column, is still being developed behind closed doors with minimal input from the profession.
From the perspective of the teachers who will be subject to the government’s process, the most worrying aspect of it is that it is subject to political interference. The commissioner is not a teacher and is not independent of the department of education, although I hope that she will take steps to assert a degree of autonomy and ensure that the processes that she will be administering meet requirements for natural justice and fairness in accordance with the established principles of administrative law.
Given Education Minister Adriana LaGrange’s recent history of interventions and mischaracterizations of the Association’s processes, it is particularly alarming to me that all decisions made by hearing panels will be reviewed and are subject to being unilaterally overturned or altered by the minister.
Effective Jan. 1, 2023, the Association will be assisting and representing its active members who are the subjects of investigations, alternative resolution processes or hearings administered by the commissioner to ensure procedural integrity and to protect member interests. This is an entirely new role for the Association as it has not previously represented teachers in disciplinary matters. The scope and nature of Association assistance provided to members will be determined on a case-by-case basis.
It is astonishing to me that with less than six weeks before the scheduled government takeover, so much about the new regulatory regime remains uncertain. In the face of the resulting ambiguity, Provincial Executive Council has passed interim policy and will be working with staff and our legal counsel to develop processes and capacity to ensure that the rights of its members are appropriately protected.
The critical takeaway from all this is that after Jan. 1, 2023, teachers who are advised that they are the subject of a conduct or practice complaint should contact the ATA without delay for advice and support and decline to respond to related inquiries without appropriate guidance from Association staff. ❚
Questions for consideration in this column are welcome. Please address them to Dennis Theobald at email@example.com.
ATA Executive Secretary
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