If you’re a teacher and you’re notified that you’re being investigated for unprofessional conduct, contact the Alberta Teachers’ Association immediately.
That’s the message from ATA president Jason Schilling following a difficult year that’s seen professional discipline transition from the ATA to the provincial government.
“We’re here to help teachers and guide them if they find themselves caught up in this new process,” Schilling said. “We’ll work with our teachers to make sure that their rights are protected and that they’re treated fairly.”
A year ago, on Jan. 1, 2023, the government officially took over the function of teacher discipline through the newly formed Alberta Teaching Profession Commission. As mandated by new legislation and regulations, the ATA wrapped up its ongoing discipline investigations and provided the commission with the last of its reports on Dec. 29, 2023.
Before the government takeover, the ATA handled discipline of its members for decades and did not provide legal advice or support to teachers who were under investigation. However, following the takeover, the Association launched its new Regulatory Affairs and Membership Support (RAMS) unit. Staff in the RAMS unit represent teachers who have found themselves the subject of complaints relating to alleged unprofessional conduct and/or professional incompetence. The unit officially began operation on July 1 and has been working steadily as teachers have come forward to the Association for support.
To date, 209 teachers have requested RAMS assistance. Of those, 45 investigations have had outcomes and 164 are still in progress. Some complaints have been withdrawn and in one case, the commissioner ordered a hearing that will take place in the coming months, said Tim Jeffares, the ATA’s associate co-ordinator who heads up the RAMS unit.
The new professional discipline process has been marked by a variety of problems, including long timelines, inconsistent practices on the part of the commission, and investigators who are unfamiliar with the school system and teachers’ roles within it, Jeffares said.
After the commission first took over the investigation process, it would inform teachers by email that they were being investigated, but these notices did not provide any detailed information about the nature of the complaint or who had filed it. Combined with long timelines and lack of answers to questions, this left teachers “struggling greatly with the mental strain and anguish of being under investigation,” Jeffares said.
He and his staff have spent a lot of time writing objection letters and communicating with the commission in an effort to help create a process that is more consistent and fairer for teachers under investigation. This has led to improvements. For example, notice of complaint letters that are sent to teachers now include information about the allegations, a reference to the fact that the teacher can call the ATA for assistance and the name of the complainant.
“There’s still an awful lot that needs to be ironed out,” Jeffares said.
Thinking back to the government’s justification for taking over teacher discipline, that the ATA was incapable of overseeing the process in a timely manner, Schilling suggested that it may have been more productive for the government to take up the Association’s offer to work together to adjust the legislation and improve the processes that were already in place.
“They’ve not put anything in place that seems to be better,” he said, “And frankly, what we’ve seen so far is a lot worse for complainants, teachers and the public.” ❚
ATA Regulatory Affairs and Membership Support (RAMS)
The Association encourages all members who have had a complaint filed against them to immediately call 780-447-9400, explain their situation and ask to speak with an intake officer with RAMS.Read more