Teachers welcome Supreme Court ruling on Bill 28

Class sizes will remain the same in School District 27 until the Ministry of Education says otherwise.

Class sizes will remain the same in School District 27 until the Ministry of Education says otherwise.

Superintendent Mark Thiessen said Tuesday that Monday’s B.C. Supreme Court ruling designating Bill 28 as unconstitutional is very new.

“We need to analyze exactly what the ruling means and will react according to what the Ministry of Education tells us,” Thiessen said.

Supreme Court Justice Susan Griffin ruled Monday that the provincial government’s Bill 28 that removed class size and special needs support from union working conditions back in 2002 was unconstitutional.

The ruling sets class size limits back to what they were in 2002.

Thiessen said class sizes in School District 27 meet current ministry guidelines but could not say if they also meet the pre-Bill 28 guidelines for class size.

Griffin’s ruling ordered government to pay $2 million in damages to the B.C. Teachers’ Federation.

“The court concluded that the government did not negotiate in good faith with the union after the Bill 28 decision,” Griffin wrote. “One of the problems was that the government representatives were preoccupied with another strategy. Their strategy was to put such pressure on the union that it would provoke a strike by the union. The government representatives thought this would give government the opportunity to gain political support for imposing legislation on the union.”

BC Teacher’s Federation president Jim Iker said he expects that the province’s 60 school districts will have to rehire teachers and special needs assistants to reduce class size. He said there were 1,200 education specialists affected by the 2002 legislation, including teacher-librarians and counsellors.

Cariboo Chilcotin Teachers Association president Murray Helmer adds: “I am cautiously optimistic we will see some improvements in our ability to offer a quality education to our students after this ruling, pending the actions of the government.”

He expects class sizes in primary will fall in almost all of the local schools.

“Kindergarten classes should be reduced from 22 students to 20, while grades 1-3 will fall from 24 to 22,” Helmer says. “I don’t know whether this will happen next year or immediately, as the disruption to existing classes would be an issue at this point.”

He says the biggest change will be the restoration of formulas for learning support teachers, counsellors, and teacher librarians.

“This will ensure that there will be more time allocated to almost all schools for these positions,” Helmer says.

“I don’t know how many teachers we lost as a direct result of the elimination of this language, but it wouldn’t have affected support workers.

“In many cases, they were hired to fill in the void created by the reduction of teachers, to offer support after the loss of the teaching staff.”

According to reports Premier Christy Clark is considering appealing the court ruling.

With files from Black Press.