Class composition should not be bargained during teacher contract talks because it is not a working condition, says the Victoria Confederation of Parent Advisory Councils (VCPAC).
Furthermore, any agreement on class composition – which refers to the number of special-needs students in any one class – could lead to discrimination against special-needs children, the group says in a March 10 letter to Education Minister Peter Fassbender and BCTF president Jim Iker.
“As leaders in the education system, your continued acceptance of class composition as a valid contract term to be negotiated, acts to encourage and legitimize the ongoing discrimination and prejudice against students with special needs,” says the letter signed by VCPAC president John Bird.
“We respectfully request that you remove class composition from the bargaining table and refrain from negotiating any other terms or conditions which have the potential to cause discrimination against any group of students.”
Dispute about whether class size and composition should be determined through contract negotiations has been at the heart of a 12-year feud between the B.C. Teachers’ Federation (BCTF) and the Liberal government.
In 2002, the Liberals removed the right to bargain class size and composition from the union’s contract, saying such matters should be addressed through legislation, not negotiations. But the BCTF challenged that action in court and won two judgments restoring the union’s right to bargain those issues.
The province is appealing parts of the latest B.C. Supreme Court ruling but accepted that class size and composition would be items for negotiation in the current round of talks, which began last year.
The VCPAC agrees that class size is a working condition to be negotiated but says class composition is not. “If we truly want each of our students to be successful, we must meet each of their individual and varying needs. Aggregating the needs of students in the classroom is the appropriate and accurate way to measure classroom workload,” the letter says.
“When this total workload is more than one teacher can accommodate, the options might include adding personnel such as education assistants, supporting the teacher with additional resources, or reducing class size.”
The VCPAC , which is the umbrella group for PACs in Greater Victoria schools, previously protested a government position that K-12 classes should have no more than three special-needs students.
The group insisted that position was discriminatory, and former education minister George Abbott agreed. His government ditched the three-student rule in March 2012.
Iker told the Victoria Times Colonist that he and Bird agree on several issues, but the union remains firm in its belief that class composition is a working condition and limits must be set through bargaining.
Bird told me later that he and Iker agreed on one key point – that the education system needs more resources. But Bird said VCPAC wants to shift the focus away from special-needs students to the resource requirements of all students and teachers.
Here is how the organization describes its position on its website:
“Decisions based on the unique needs of each student are sound educational practice. Decisions based on group characteristics are inherently discriminatory…”
“The key to full inclusion is not to focus solely on groups of students that one is trying to include, but instead to see to the needs of all students in the classroom. Each student’s needs must be individually analyzed. Staff skills must also be analyzed to ensure that they are sufficient to meet the needs of the students. This process must involve staff and parents with the primary focus on every student’s success.”