Edmonton

Alberta Teachers' Association to lose disciplinary role, province announces

Alberta's education minister says she plans to split the Alberta Teachers' Association in two by removing teacher discipline from its mandate.

Minister 'horrified' and 'appalled' by case of former Calgary teacher Michael Gregory

Education Minister Adriana LaGrange has outlined new moves to tighten oversight of the teacher discipline process in Alberta. (Jason Franson/The Canadian Press)

Alberta Education Minister Adriana LaGrange says she plans to split the Alberta Teachers' Association (ATA) in two by removing teacher discipline from its mandate.

The association's president quickly pledged to fight the government's move to act on what has been a long-looming threat by conservative governments in the province.

Although new details about a 15-year-old case of teacher misconduct spurred her to act, other more recent events convinced her that the ATA is ill-equipped to police its 46,000 members, LaGrange said Thursday in an interview.

"As the minister of education, I consider it my moral obligation to do everything in my power to fix this broken system that has let our children and their families down for too long," LaGrange said in a video posted online Thursday morning.

LaGrange said she was "gobsmacked" by the case of former Calgary teacher Michael Gregory, who was suspended in 2006, but only charged this past February with 17 counts of sexual assault and sexual exploitation involving six students.

The case never made it to trial, as he died by suicide five days after being charged.

LaGrange pointed a finger at the ATA for failing to report Gregory to the police — which the association isn't obliged to do. The ATA clapped back, sharing a 2006 letter in which its registrar informed the Progressive Conservative education minister of the day about Gregory. The association says the government also failed to tell police.

Three plaintiffs who say they were victims of Gregory's abusive behaviour recently launched a $40-million proposed class-action lawsuit against Gregory's estate and the Calgary Board of Education.

According to an ATA disciplinary decision to revoke Gregory's licence, he admitted in 2006 to mentally and physically abusing students. The education minister suspended his teaching certificate for two years, but Gregory chose to leave the profession.

 

Michael Gregory was a teacher at a Calgary junior high school from 1986 to 2006. He was suspended 15 years ago after accusations of assault came to light. But he was only criminally charged this past February. He died by suicide five days later. (John Ware Junior High)

The ATA can levy fines and reprimands, but can only recommend the minister suspend or revoke a teaching certificate.

ATA president Jason Schilling said LaGrange's promise to introduce legislation to cleave apart the association is a political move that has little to do with student safety.

"Alberta's education system will crater," Schilling said at a news conference Thursday. "The teaching profession has a long history of being unified and collegial. And today's most recent threat will rip the profession apart and jeopardize the stability of education in our schools."

He slammed the government's independent process for disciplining private school teachers and school division leaders as secretive and ineffective.

Schilling also accused the government of trying to distract the public from other controversies, including what he called inadequate school funding, the government's hands-off approach to COVID-19 in schools and a widely panned new draft elementary school curriculum.

LaGrange's move comes before the ink is dry on another bill to change teacher regulation in Alberta.

The Education Statues (Students First) Amendment Act will enable the government to create a public database of all certified Alberta teachers, principals and superintendents by September 2022.

Although most ATA discipline hearings are open to the public, a legal quirk prevents the provincial government from releasing information when a teacher's certificate is suspended or revoked. 

LaGrange said Thursday she'll bring in an order-in-council to immediately enact one of the legislative changes, requiring the ATA to tell the government when they receive a complaint about suspected teacher wrongdoing.

Right now, the ATA notifies the government of cases once a disciplinary panel has found the teacher guilty of misconduct and recommended a penalty.

Each province has a different model for representing and policing teachers. Saskatchewan's government created a separate regulatory body in 2015, saying the Saskatchewan Teachers' Federation was in a conflict of interest by performing both functions.

Ontario created a teacher's college in 1997, giving it a mandate to license teachers and maintain standards for the profession, as well as implement a disciplinary process. The B.C. government took over the role of regulating teachers in 2011 after that province's teachers' college became mired in dysfunction.

LaGrange said she doesn't yet know whether Alberta should have a teachers' college or whether the government will absorb the function. She said she wants to hear from victims and their families, the public and educators.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Janet French

Provincial affairs reporter

Janet French covers the Alberta Legislature for CBC Edmonton. She previously spent 15 years working at newspapers, including the Edmonton Journal and Saskatoon StarPhoenix. You can reach her at janet.french@cbc.ca.

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