Alberta teachers’ assembly expresses a lack of confidence in minister of education

EDMONTON — The Alberta Teachers’ Association (ATA) passed a motion of non-confidence in the minister of education at its annual membership assembly.

The motion of non-confidence in Minister of Education Adriana LaGrange passed with 99 per cent of delegates voting in favour.

It was discussed at the annual ATA Annual Representative Assembly on Saturday and Sunday.

Nicole Sparrow, the minister of education’s press secretary, said in a statement that the non-confidence vote was “disappointing.”

“It is disappointing that the union continues to play politics with our students’ education,” Sparrow said. “While the union advances its own special interests, Minister LaGrange’s top priority will always be Alberta’s students.”

Sparrow added that despite the vote, LaGrange will continue to work with the education system and the ATA.

Every year the assembly meets over the May long weekend to shape policy and direction for the ATA and teaching profession in Alberta.

According to Jason Schilling, ATA president, the rationale for the vote of non-confidence includes a litany of concerns ranging from the rollback on protections for LGBTQ+ students, government handling of teachers pensions, learning during the COVID-19 pandemic, and the draft curriculum.

In a media availability Sunday, Schilling said teachers are tired of having their concerns go unheard.

“All of these (concerns) compounded by empty words and remarks made by ministry staff who continue to disrespect teachers, their association, and the job they love.

“To have our concerns for public education so arbitrarily dismissed is a slap in the face to the dedication of teachers and principals that they’ve shown their students, schools, and communities,” he said.

While the vote has no ramifications on the minister’s standing in government, Schilling said it shows teachers discontent and that the ball is now in the minister’s court to help rebuild the relationship.

According to the ATA, the motion was jointly drafted by 20 locals of the ATA and has “the highest level of collaboration seen on a locally developed resolution in the assembly’s recent history.”

This marks the second time in Alberta’s history that a minister of education has received a vote of non-confidence from the teachers’ assembly. The ATA assembly passed a similar vote in 2014.

A motion of non-confidence had been proposed during the teachers’ assembly meeting last year but it was passed to the association’s executive council.

According to Heather Quinn, president of an Edmonton public teachers local of the ATA, the association did not pursue the motion further because it had hoped to maintain ties with the minister.

“Last year when this was first proposed there was a mixed reaction for a variety of reasons,” Quinn said. “One of those reasons included a sincere and genuine desire to keep communication with this minister in the hopes of being able to work together.

“I think a year ago some of us still had a hope that this would be possible.”

Quinn said that the lack of inclusion in re-entry planning for students in a COVID-19 environment and the draft curriculum content and little consultation changed that hope. Especially as the ATA has continued to maintain dialogue by sending letters, emails, social media messages, and requests for meetings.

“What has this minister done in the last year to show that she is interested in maintaining or improving our relationship?

“Instead of supporting, protecting, and enhancing public education, the minister has in fact lead the way in underfunding, diminishing the capacity, and unfairly demeaning our public education system and the work of teachers,” Quinn said.

The assembly heard from teachers across the province for an hour about why they supported the motion.

Sarah Hoffman, NDP critic for education, said in a statement Sunday that the unprecedented and nearly unanimous vote of no-confidence resulted from the UCP’s two years of fractious relations with teachers and public education.

“This vote by teachers reflects Albertans’ complete loss of trust in the Kenney government,” Hoffman said.

Sunday’s vote of no confidence in the minister of education marks the second time a provincial cabinet minister within Kenney’s government has received a vote of non-confidence from a professional association.

Last July, an overwhelming majority of Alberta doctors voted they had no confidence in Alberta’s Health Minister Tyler Shandro.

LACK OF CONFIDENCE IN ALBERTA DRAFT K-6 CURRICULUM ALSO EXPRESSED BY TEACHERS’ ASSEMBLY

The assembly also passed a motion expressing a “collective lack of confidence” in the draft curriculum that the consultation and development process for it as well as the content it contains is “deeply flawed.”

That motion passed with only seven delegates voting against, out of 401.

“It should come as no surprise that a deeply flawed process has resulted in a deeply flawed product,” Schilling said.

“Fundamentally, the K-6 draft curriculum is not developmentally appropriate for children age’s five to 11. Its design and content do not reflect the current research on elementary school learning, brain development, and student engagement.”

In addition, motions to “depoliticize” the UCP’s draft K-6 curriculum development process and that the government pursue a one-year pause on curriculum implementation were passed at the virtual meeting.

The motion for a moratorium asked the ATA to push the province to pause piloting and implementing the draft curriculum until it can undergo an independent and transparent review process from Alberta teachers, experts, and is inclusive of Indigenous and Francophone perspectives.

It passed with 97 per cent support.

Jenny Regal, vice president of the ATA provincial executive council, said the motion for a moratorium was necessary to create “breathing space.”

“There is not an easy quick fix (to the curriculum),” she said. “The pandemic has placed additional stresses on teachers, students, and parents.

“Piloting should not occur until the pandemic has passed.”

Regal added that the curriculum should fit the “modern social context” so that Alberta students are properly equipped for the future.

Having broader inclusion of voices in curriculum development would allow a stronger end-product, she said.

According to the ATA, the assembly acts as a parliament for the teaching profession in Alberta with delegates from across the province who are teachers representing, by population, each of the ATA’s 61 locals.

The ATA has approximately 46,000 members.

Most school divisions in the province have already indicated they will not support the pilot. 

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