Question: So what is happening?
Answer: On June 21, 2022, the deputy minister of education sent an e-mail and the attached fact sheet to school authorities and education stakeholders, including the Alberta Teachers’ Association, that it was moving to establish, effective September 1, 2022, a public registry listing all certificated teachers along with the status of their certificate.
The text of the e-mail and the fact sheet can be viewed here.
Arriving as late as it did in the school year and without any meaningful consultation or any prior notification of employer boards or the Association, school authorities scrambled to get the information out to their certificated staff. Many of you will have received e-mails from your school board concerning this matter.
You will also receive communication by e-mail or letter from Alberta Education at the most recent e-mail or mailing address they have on file for you.
As usual with this government, its failure to effectively collaborate on the implementation of this initiative or to provide sufficient time for proper communication is creating much concern among teachers. This Q&A is intended to relieve some of those teacher concerns and also to highlight potential issues going forward.
Question: What if I want information directly from the government and have questions?
Answer: There is a webpage regarding the registry.
The website also includes a link to a fact sheet regarding the registry:
To contact Alberta Education
Toll free: 310-0000 before the phone number (in Alberta)
Question: What information will be in the registry and available online?
Answer: The government says that, for every certificated teacher, the registry will list all their legal names, the type of certificate(s) they hold (eg, letter of authority, interim professional, permanent professional, school leader, school system leader) and the dates those were issued, going back to 1954. The registry will also indicate whether a teacher’s certificate has been suspended or cancelled, with this information going back to 1990.
Question: What do I have to do immediately?
Answer: For most teachers currently employed by a school authority, the information the government is requiring will have been sent directly to them by their employer using the Teacher Workforce Information System (TWINS), and no immediate action on their part is required. However, teachers may wish to check the accuracy of the information the government has on file and update their contact information by signing on to the TWINS Teacher Self-Service website and following the instructions provided there. Regrettably, the Association will not be able to help members access the TWINS portal. Should teachers need assistance, they should use the links and contact information provided on the Alberta Education site.
Question: What can I do if I do not want my information to be posted?
Answer: The government has established a process that will allow teachers to apply for an exemption that would preclude their information from being included in the public-facing online registry. It is important to note that exemptions will not be granted automatically, but rather will be issued on an individual basis at the discretion of the Registrar. Exemptions may be granted to teachers when the disclosure of their information violates legislation, if a court order bans publication of the information, or if posting the information could cause “injury or hardship.” The government indicates that such exemptions will be granted only very rarely.
Question: How do I apply for an exemption?
Answer: The teacher requesting an exemption would apply by completing an online form on TWINS and then supplying supporting information within very tight timelines. For the request to stand any chance of being considered and acted upon before the registry goes live on September 1, 2022, the initial application must be posted to TWINS before July 29, 2022.
Update: If you are seeking an exemption and need more time beyond the deadline first specified, please contact the Registrar’s office to discuss your circumstances, as they may be able to extend the timelines in specific instances. However, please also call the Association’s Teacher Employment Services so that we may provide important advice.
To contact the Registrar’s Office
Toll free: 310-0000 before the phone number (in Alberta)
Question: What sort of supporting information would I need to supply to support a request for an exemption?
Answer: The Association is very concerned that the government’s demand for information in support of an exemption application is intrusive, over-reaching and potentially traumatizing for vulnerable teachers. The government states that
Applicants must include a signed and dated letter outlining a detailed description of how the inclusion of their information in the Registry would be contrary to any other enactment of Alberta or Canada, would be contrary to any court order or could cause injury or hardship to any person. In the letter, it is important to consider the following:
- What security or safety measures are you taking to prevent personal information from being disclosed on the Internet, social media or other open-source websites?
- Is there evidence that an individual or group has previously obtained your personal information? Further details may be requested by the Registrar related to these matters.
- Are individuals or groups conducting surveillance, harassment or intimidation-type behaviour? Further details may be requested by the Registrar related to these matters.
- Provide any other information relevant to demonstrate how the inclusion in the Teacher and Teacher Leader Online Registry will cause a threat to personal safety and what the anticipated outcome may be.
You may wish to provide additional supporting documents, including:
- police reports and file numbers;
- Occupational Health and Safety report(s); or
- human resources report(s).
Any sensible individual would realize immediately that this requirement for disclosure is patently unreasonable and revictimizes individuals requiring protection. Furthermore, the requirement that all this information and documentation be submitted within 15 days of making the application is unrealistic.
If you are seeking an exemption, please contact ATA Teacher Employment Services to discuss your situation and obtain whatever assistance we will be able to provide.
Question: I am a teacher who has transitioned. I do not wish my dead name to be linked to my current identity. Will the Registrar respect my identity and honour my request for an exemption?
Answer: We don’t know. This is not a scenario that is set out in the documentation provided by government, and individuals in this situation may be rightly concerned about government’s willingness to respond in a supportive way.
Again, if you are seeking an exemption, please contact ATA Teacher Employment Services to discuss your situation and obtain whatever assistance we will be able to provide.
Question: Does the Association object to publicly disclosing that a teacher’s certificate has been cancelled or suspended?
Answer: Under the legislation currently in place, all Association hearing reports are on the public record, and where an individual has had their membership in the Association suspended or cancelled, this information, appropriately redacted to protect witnesses and victims, has been posted to the Association website. Suspension and cancellation of membership are the most severe penalties imposed by the Association’s professional conduct processes (and are functionally identical, ensuring that the teacher will not be able to be employed by a public, separate or francophone school jurisdiction in the province). Posting this information publicly in the manner we have done is consistent with current practice across professional bodies. With the announcement of the provincial registry, however, the Association will be discontinuing its own posting to avoid potential duplication or confusion.
The minister’s decision to post information about suspensions and cancellations in the context of certification is not objectionable and will bring much needed transparency to the minister’s own secretive processes concerning the policing of the professional conduct of those teachers who have been outside of Association jurisdiction, including superintendents, chief deputy superintendents, elected-out central office teachers, private and charter school teachers and teachers employed by First Nation Education Authorities.
Question: Other professions and provinces have public facing registries. Why should teachers object to what the government is planning?
Answer: This is a fair question, and the answer is related to another question that the Association posed when the establishment of registry was included in Bill 85 but was never adequately answered: “What is the problem that a general teacher registry is supposed to solve?”
Teachers who are members of the Alberta Teachers’ Association are employed by one (or in some cases, several) public, separate or francophone school authorities. Being in possession of a valid teacher certificate is a requirement to teach, and school boards verify with the government the certification status of teachers at the point of hiring. This is also supposed to be true of charter and private schools and First Nation Education Authorities. The bottom line, then, is that the fact that a teacher is in the classroom or working in some other teaching capacity is, in itself, proof that their certification status has been confirmed.
This is not the case for many other professions where there are many more prospective employers and many employment situations. Often, professionals are self-employed or set up their own businesses. So it may make sense to be able to verify if the lawyer, accountant, engineer, dentist, architect or therapist you have hired does, in fact, possess the qualifications to do the work expected.
Furthermore, in the case of teachers, certification is entirely under the control of the government, whereas for most other professions, this function is within the purview of the independent regulatory body established and operated by the profession itself.
It should also be noted here that many of the problems arising from this announcement and the unnecessary angst they will create for teachers and school boards could have been avoided entirely, or at least reduced, if the minister and her officials had been willing to discuss implementation processes, communication and timelines with the Association. That they did not is not surprising, but certainly another example of this government’s chronic mismanagement of education matters and relationships within the sector.
Question: So why would the fact that the province directly controls the public-facing registry be a problem?
Answer: Two reasons. The first is that while the information currently expected to be provided on the government registry site is, for most teachers, fairly innocuous, there is a distinct possibility that, as time goes by, the registry’s purpose and the scope of the information it includes might expand. With no firm provision for limiting this mission creep, it is easy to imagine that the government might decide to post publicly (and permanently) the outcomes of professional conduct or practice hearings that result in penalties that are less than suspensions or cancellations of certificates. In a fact sheet distributed with the release of Bill 15, the government actually indicated its intention to move in this direction:
The online teacher registry established under the Students First Act would be further expanded. Bill 15 would make publicly available all hearing, appeal and Minister’s decisions where there is a finding of unprofessional conduct or professional incompetence.
The online teacher registry would also make publicly available any signed consent-resolution agreements initiated by the new Alberta Teaching Profession Commissioner.
From there it is a small step to posting notices of hearings before any allegations have been proven and just another step to posting complaints, whether unfounded or not. One might even go so far as to imagine, in the not-too-distant future, an Orwellian scenario where the test scores of students are attributed to individual teachers and posted on the registry (we have actually heard a candidate for the leadership of the United Conservative Party come very close to proposing this).
Those who teach (or who know teachers) understand the fundamental complexity of the job; the number of decisions that a teacher must make daily; the number of persons and interactions that characterize their work; and the competing pressures and demands imposed by students, parents, administrators and public. They understand the fundamental complexity of teachers’ work and how demands for “accountability” and “transparency” can result in practices and policies that are fundamentally unfair, with unanticipated and destructive consequences for individuals and the education system.
The second reason is that the registry is ripe for political interference. Both the Registrar and the Commissioner are employees of the government. Furthermore, the minister of education has written into Bill 15 the capacity for her to disregard entirely decisions and penalties of hearing committees and to substitute her own in their place (to be clear, the Association’s current process provides no such authority to the political leadership of the Association or the executive secretary). In this environment, teachers and Albertans generally can have little confidence that the registry and the information included on it will be objectively and fairly managed.
Question: What, if anything, is the Association planning to do to challenge the government’s plans?
Answer: The Association is particularly concerned about the privacy implications of the registry, particularly with respect to individuals seeking exemption. We have already filed information with the Office of the Information and Privacy Commissioner urgently requesting that the implementation of the registry be reviewed as potentially violating sections of the Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act. See the letter of complaint to the privacy commissioner here.
Beyond that, it is unclear whether the creation of the registry itself is open to legal challenge. As noted, many professions have their own registries that include similar or even more extensive information. That said, the Association’s legal counsel have been apprised of these developments and will provide advice that will inform the Association’s next steps.
Teachers requiring assistance with matters concerning the registry should call the Association in Edmonton at 780-447-9400 or toll free at 1-800-232-7208; in Calgary at 403-265-2672 or toll free at 1-800-332-1280. Ask to be connected to Teacher Employment Services or press 2 to be connected immediately. Because of concerns about the confidentiality of information sent by e-mail, particularly using employer devices and internet, members are encouraged to initially contact staff by phone rather than by e-mail.
This Q&A document was created on 2022 06 23 and will be updated as needed.