Wait and see on class size, composition ruling, Coquitlam board chair says

School districts in B.C., including Coquitlam school district, are waiting to see what the province does following a B.C. Supreme Court judgement that struck down class size and composition legislation. - THINKSTOCK
School districts in B.C., including Coquitlam school district, are waiting to see what the province does following a B.C. Supreme Court judgement that struck down class size and composition legislation.
— image credit: THINKSTOCK

A B.C. Supreme Court rejection of the the provincial government's effort to keep class size and special needs support off the bargaining table could have significant ramifications for School District 43, but trustees are waiting for future developments before making any predictions.

Board Chair Melissa Hyndes said it's too soon to say what the full impact of Madam Justice Susan Griffith's decision released Monday will be but it could mean more teachers in the classroom. The province could also appeal the decision, and reports Tuesday suggested Christy Clark is leaning that way.

"It has major impacts for us," Hyndes said, although she couldn't be specific. "We would be waiting for the government, and hopefully, if there is no appeal or whatever, the next steps the government would decide, and what ever increases would happen would be fully funded."

In her ruling, Justice Susan Griffin said the B.C. government's replacement legislation, passed in 2011, is as unconstitutional as the 2002 law called Bill 28 that removed class size and special needs support from union working conditions.

"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."


Coquitlam Teachers Association president Charley King said the latest ruling is the second time the provincial government's legislation had been declared unconstitutional by the courts.

"A government can enact legislation, but no government is above the law," he said. "I sure hope the government gets the message this time.

The ruling strikes down the portions of the new legislation that have not already expired. As well, the government has been ordered to pay $2 million in damages to the B.C. Teachers' Federation.

BCTF president Jim Iker said the ruling returns contract language that was in place in 2002, and 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.

"It's good for us, it's good for public education, it's good for British Columbia and for our students," Iker said of Monday's ruling.

Education Minister Peter Fassbender said he is "disappointed" by the ruling, and ministry staff will study it before deciding on a possible appeal. He said he disagrees with the judge's conclusion that the government tried to provoke a strike and his focus is on reaching a new agreement.

"What we need to do is to review the judge's ruling in detail to see what the implications are, but clearly my message to school districts, to parents, is it's business as usual in our schools," Fassbender said.


NDP education critic Rob Fleming called the ruling a "real blow to the B.C. Liberals' credibility," adding it traces back to Premier Christy Clark's time as education minister in 2002.

The BC School Trustees Association, meanwhile, has asked school boards to not comment fully on the judgement until all the facts are in place. SD43 chair Hyndes said that means being patient and waiting for the government to make the next move.

However, she said the judgement does appear to cast doubt on the province's efforts to legislate class size and composition, which boards and teachers strongly protested in 2002. She recalled that trustees at the time joined teachers in calling for Clark's resignation and members of the Coquitlam Teachers Association marched on her constituency office carrying placards.

Today's classes are larger than they were last year because of funding cuts, but still within legislated limits, Hyndes said.

"That's because we have always, for the last seven years, allocated $2 million extra in our budget for class size and composition so we could put more resources into the most vulnerable classes."

— with files from Tom Fletcher


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