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Appeal court stays order to reorganize schools

Education Minister Peter Fassbender - Black Press files
Education Minister Peter Fassbender
— image credit: Black Press files

The B.C. Court of Appeal has suspended a lower court ruling that would force B.C.'s school districts to reorganize around teacher contract terms that were scrapped by the government in 2002.

Education Minister Peter Fassbender said the latest turn in the long-running legal battle with the B.C. Teachers' Federation allows stability for parents and students while negotiations continue on class size, special needs support and other issues.

The decision provides a "stable environment" for the 60 school districts to prepare for next September under existing arrangements, he said.

"We need to now get back to the table and see if we can find that sweet spot between both parties where we have a negotiated settlement," Fassbender said.

Those negotiations, to replace an imposed contract that expired last June, are scheduled to continue next week as BCTF members take a strike vote.

The appeal court decision, released Wednesday, allows the government to pursue its appeal of a January ruling that it argued would cause major disruption to schools, which will likely take several months.

In January, B.C. Supreme Court Justice Susan Griffin found for a second time that B.C. legislation imposing contract terms violated teachers' right to collective bargaining.

In his decision, Justice David Harris agreed with submissions from district superintendents around the province.

"The evidence demonstrates that the immediate reinsertion of the deleted terms into the collective agreement will probably lead to a dislocation of current planning and budgeting or the next school year, immense challenges in hiring sufficient suitably qualified staff, lay-offs of employees, change to available school programs, cancelling school programs, creating more classes, moving students to other schools, disrupting programs for special needs students, the provision of additional classroom space (likely through the addition of portables where space permits), and the breaking of contracts with community groups who use school space for their activities as school districts reclaim the needed space to accommodate additional classes," Harris wrote.

BCTF lawyers had argued that the 2002 rules could have been reinstated in time for the September 2014 school year. Harris said it would be unlikely the appeal of constitutional arguments would be complete by then, and if it is successful, the school system would have to be made over again.

 

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