A Manitoba bill to create a virtual registry of teachers — resumés and disciplinary records included — has been touted as a step towards transparency, but the profession’s largest union says it must be tossed to protect its members’ rights.

“Absolutely, we need to keep kids safe, but it shouldn’t come at the expense of making teachers vulnerable,” said Nathan Martindale, newly appointed president of the Manitoba Teachers’ Society.

The Stefanson government has revealed its plans for sweeping reforms to regulate the teaching profession and handle incidents of malpractice, which are currently dealt with internally by MTS and through the court system.

Bill 35, the Education Administration Act (Teacher Certification and Professional Conduct), would establish an online database of educators and task an independent commissioner with reviewing complaints about registrants.

A government-appointed commissioner would have the discretion to close matters or investigate them, be it through a public hearing in front of a panel of teachers, school board representatives and members of the public, or otherwise.

If an educator were to be found guilty of professional misconduct or incompetence, they could be suspended, lose their teaching certificate, face professional limitations or be reprimanded another way.

The proposal states appeals would be handled through the Court of King’s Bench.

“There’s a public appetite for more transparency,” said Cameron Hauseman, an assistant professor of education who studies school governance at the University of Manitoba.

“Right now, we don’t know how many teachers are involved in misconduct types of situations on a yearly basis. Right now, we don’t know what disciplinary procedures look like, let alone what the consequences of substantiated misconduct look like.”

Hauseman, a former elementary school teacher in Ontario, has long been vocal about his support for a regulatory college in this province so parents, members of the public and employers across the world can quickly find teacher qualifications.

The Ontario College of Teachers, of which he remains a member in good standing, was established more than 25 years ago. B.C. and Alberta have similar Rolodexes.

When reached by phone, the MTS leader provided a laundry list of concerns the union has about the legislation, from its broad definitions about misconduct to the absence of information about union representatives at disciplinary hearings.

Martindale said Manitoba teachers — who must agree to a code of professional practice that deems student safety their No. 1 priority — do not oppose regulation. However, he called Bill 35 “unacceptable,” claiming it does not protect teachers’ due process, follow the rules of natural justice and sets up members to be exposed to “frivolous and malicious complaints.”

If passed, this legislation will hinder efforts to recruit educators amid a labour shortage, he said.

In contrast, Manitoba Liberals are in favour of expanding the scope of the legislation by explicitly equipping the regulatory commissioner with a mandate to monitor issues of co-worker mistreatment in schools.

“The conditions of work are the conditions of learning, in this case,” said party leader Dougald Lamont, adding he would also like to see a more detailed definition of professional misconduct included in the bill so any government of the day cannot simply define what constitutes a valid case.

In a generic statement on the subject, NDP education critic Nello Altomare noted the vast majority of teachers follow the rules. Outliers must be met with “a fair and measured process that is focused on the safety and well-being of the child,” said Altomare, a retired principal.

Hauseman said he is impressed by the great lengths the government has taken to set out a fair complaint process for educators.

Should the bill pass, his recommendation to the province is to be careful about choosing a strong, trusted and well-respected K-12 leader for the commissioner job.

By Maggie Macintosh, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter

Original Published on Mar 16, 2023

This item reprinted with permission from   Free Press   Winnipeg, Manitoba
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