The provincial government has been ordered by the B.C. Supreme Court to pay $2 million in damages to the B.C. Teachers Federation (BCTF) in a ruling released Jan. 27.
The ruling calls for government to retroactively restore class-size and composition language that was stripped from the teachers' contract in 2002.
The legal fight started in 2002 when the Liberal government put in place laws to give schools flexibility in organizing classes. The legislation, called Bill 28, removed the limits on class sizes from the collective bargaining process. Shortly after the legislation was enacted the BCTF went to court to fight the bill.
BCTF president Jim Iker said his members are celebrating the ruling.
"I'm very happy today," said Iker in a press release issued on Monday. "This is the end of a long and costly legal battle for the teachers of B.C. It's a great day for democracy, and for all working people across B.C and Canada."
Iker noted that the legislation was already declared unconstitutional in 2011, and the judge at that time gave government one year to rectify the situation. However, he said, government simply reintroduced the same unconstitutional provisions.
By removing class-size limits and class-composition guarantees, the government did significant damage to learning conditions in schools across the province, he said.
"Children who were in kindergarten when those bills were passed are now in Grade 12, and have spent their entire school careers in larger classes with fewer resources," he said. "For the past 12 years, thousands of children couldn't get the services they needed because government broke the law."
According to the BCTF, the legislation removed provisions that guaranteed smaller classes, support for students with special needs, and services from teacher-librarians, counsellors, and other specialists.
"If government had respected the charter, teachers would not have had to spend the past dozen years fighting for our rights," Iker said. "Now we expect that government will do everything necessary to demonstrate respect for the court's ruling and make the situation right. Restore our smaller classes, rehire our specialist colleagues, and help us rebuild the excellent public education system that British Columbians expect for their children."
Education Minister Peter Fassbender said it was too soon to say whether the government would file an appeal.
Fassbender said he disagreed with the ruling, but that his Ministry needed to review the ruling in more detail to see what the implications might be.
The full judgment can be found at: www.courts.gov.bc.ca/jdb-txt/ SC/14/01/2014 BCSC0121cor1.htm.
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