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Planned discipline changes prompt ATA battle cry

January 11, 2022 Cory Hare, ATA News Managing Editor


Teachers, get ready for a fight like you’ve never seen, says ATA president

The Alberta Teachers’ Association is launching a comprehensive pushback effort following a government announcement that it intends to take the teacher disciplinary process away from the ATA.

Education Minister Adriana LaGrange announced on Dec. 9 that she has directed her staff to begin drafting legislation, to be introduced in the spring, that “will separate the teacher disciplinary process from the ATA’s mandate and functions.” 

Such a move would strip the Association of many of its core professional roles, leaving it to act primarily as a union, said ATA president Jason Schilling.

He described LaGrange’s effort as a politically motivated attack aimed at distracting the media and the public from the government’s mishandling of several issues in the public education sphere, such as a draft K–6 curriculum, teacher pensions, funding cuts and the COVID-19 pandemic.

President Jason Schilling explains the Association’s position on a government plan to remove the teacher discipline process from the ATA during a virtual media availability on Dec. 9


“What is galling is that, in an attempt to distract from its own successive failures, the government is attacking the teaching profession,” he said.

When announcing the initiative, LaGrange said the ATA has mishandled the discipline process and that change is needed to ensure children are protected from predatory teachers.

“I consider it my moral obligation to do everything in my power to fix the broken system that has let our children and their families down for so long,” she said.

LaGrange cited the case of a former Calgary Board of Education teacher who received a two-year suspension for “admitted child abuse.”

While LaGrange didn’t mention the teacher by name, Schilling said she was obviously referring to the case of Michael Gregory, who was the subject of an ATA disciplinary hearing in 2006. Gregory was charged with unprofessional conduct and a hearing committee found him guilty and recommended a two-year suspension, which effectively ended his teaching career.

Years later, after the ATA disciplinary process had taken place and Gregory had been removed from the profession, police charged him with sexual offences against former students. After he was charged, Gregory died by suicide, and a class action lawsuit was recently brought against the Calgary Board of Education alleging that the board failed to take appropriate action against Gregory.

Schilling said the 2006 case heard by the ATA did not include the sexual offences with which Gregory was more recently charged. He accused LaGrange of purposefully misrepresenting the facts for political gain.

“To draw a connection between the two unrelated matters is nothing more than gaslighting,” Schilling said. “This is why teachers and an increasing number of ordinary Albertans just have no trust in this minister and the government’s agenda for education.”

Former ministers speak out

LaGrange’s announcement prompted two former education ministers to express support through opinion pieces published by various Alberta media outlets. Former minister Jeff Johnson, who created a task force in 2014 that recommended a similar change to the teacher discipline process, wrote that LaGrange was to be commended for bringing the idea forward and that such a conversation is overdue. 

“The ATA is in an impossible position. They are tasked with defending teachers and protecting children at the same time,” he wrote. “Other provinces have modernized their teacher investigation processes and it’s time Alberta did the same.”

In an op-ed piece written to counter Johnson’s, Schilling pointed out that the former minister included multiple mistruths about the ATA’s process. Schilling wrote that article 32 of the Teaching Profession Act stipulates that the ATA does not defend or represent an investigated teacher at a professional conduct hearing. The investigated teacher may hire their own counsel to present their case, if they wish.

In a separate op-ed piece, former minister Lyle Oberg suggested that other professions like doctors and nurses are more dedicated than teachers when it comes to protecting the public interest through governance of their members.

“It is time for the ATA to realize that bad actors in their profession bring the whole profession down and that perception is reality,” he wrote.

Schilling countered that the ATA investigates all complaints of teacher unprofessional conduct, and that hearings and their subsequent reports are open to the public. He reiterated that LaGrange is focusing on teacher discipline as a way to distract attention from her own failings.

“I see no sense in scrapping a system that has worked well for over 100 years, only to start from scratch just because politicians are trying to distract from their own incompetence,” he wrote.

Schilling is calling for teachers to prepare for a vigilant defense of public education like they have not seen before. ❚



More information on this topic will be available in a special issue of the ATA News that will be published in the coming weeks.

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