The provincial government will appeal a B.C. Supreme Court ruling that it violated teachers' rights when it stripped them of specific bargaining provisions in 2002, Education Minister Peter Fassbender announced Tuesday.
Last week, the B.C. Supreme Court ordered the province to pay $2 million in damages for removing the teachers' collective rights to bargain on class size, composition, and support for special needs students — and for failing to reinstate them when ordered by the court last April.
On Tuesday Fassbender said the province would be appealing that decision because it focuses more on the needs of the B.C. Teachers' Federation and less on the needs of students. It also limits the ability of the province to set education policy.
"It is the BCTF's job to defend its members' interests and has done so with passion and vigour. But it is government's responsibility to balance those interests against the best interests of students, their families, and the 4.6 million British Columbians who already invest nearly $5 billion into the K-12 education every year," said Fassbinder in a statement.
Fassbender also called the ruling "completely unaffordable" for taxpayers, as it would potentially require thousands of new teachers to be hired to accommodate smaller class sizes. He insisted, however, the government's decision to appeal is about principle and not cost.
"It would create huge disruptions in our schools and, most importantly, it will prevent districts from providing the right mix of supports that our students actually need."
School board disappointed
The chair of the Vancouver School Board Patti Bacchus expressed her disappointment with the government's announcement with some sharply-worded comments on Twitter.
"What a terrible day for our province's public ed system, students & families. More betrayal by law-breaking, strike-provoking govt," Bacchus tweeted.
What a terrible day for our province's public ed system, students & families. More betrayal by law-breaking, strike-provoking govt. #bcpoli— pattibacchus (@pattibacchus) February 4, 2014
"Wasting taxpayer dollars on losing court battles a complete failure to show leadership in #bced. Sets us back," said another tweet from Bacchus.
Wasting taxpayer dollars on losing court battles a complete failure to show leadership in #bced. Sets us back.— pattibacchus (@pattibacchus) February 4, 2014
Another tweet appeared to take aim at unnamed politicians who put their children in private schools.
"If putting your child in an elite private school & then taking putting the boots to the public system is what passes for leadership," said the tweet, which was followed by another that said, "Yes, I went there."
If putting your child in an elite private school & then taking putting the boots to the public system is what passes for leadership.,,— pattibacchus (@pattibacchus) February 4, 2014
When asked later about the tweet, Bacchus would not say if it was directed at Premier Christy Clark, whose son Hamish attends an exclusive private school in B.C.
She told CBC News that she got involved in the school board and public education advocacy because of what happened in 2002, when the province stripped teachers of their collective bargaining rights. At the time, her children were in primary school.
"It does feel personal for those of us who really support public education — who stuck with it, stayed there to advocate, stayed there to fight for services, kept our kids in the system," said Bacchus.
"I do feel immensely betrayed by the government — the way they have treated the public education system, their failure to accept what they have done, take responsibility for their actions and put things right, particularly if they don't put their own kids in the system and protect them off in an elite private school. I think that's appalling."
Teachers' union outraged
In a news conference of its own on Tuesday, the BCTF accused the government of not being "serious" about stability in public education system and of putting politics above students.
"We want a fair deal negotiated at the bargaining table that respects teachers and provides better support for students. That's stability," said BCTF president Jim Iker.
He called on the government to provide adequate support for English language and learning resource teachers, school councillors and librarians, and special needs educators.
"The best way for government to move forward is to negotiate in good faith and bring the necessary funding to the bargaining table. If government can do that, B.C.'s students will be the biggest beneficiaries," he said.
It is unclear how negotiations between the government and teachers will be impacted when they resume later this month. Both sides have said they would like to negotiate in good faith, but the school board and teachers' union said they have lost all trust in the system.