Category Archives: Protests

BC Teachers Federation scores landmark victory in academic freedom and freedom of expression #bcpoli

Well, it turns out that Dr. Seuss’s initial impression during the war that you can’t achieve a substantial victory out of turtles turns out to be wrong! This past week, after 3 years or a decade, depending how its measured, the BC Teachers’ Federation scored one of the most substantial court victories in academic and intellectual freedom for teachers in the last thirty years. The victory provides a substantial defense of educators’ civil liberties and free expression, critical education methods of instruction. And what’s more, it is a significant victory for students’ rights to critical content in the schools.

On 21 May, the BC Court of Appeal released its decision on the BCTF v. BC Public School Employers’ Association (BCPSEA) / Board of Education of School District No. 5.  The case concerned “the extent to which teachers’ expression of political views on education issues in public schools is protected freedom of expression under s. 2(b) of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms:”

The political expressions in issue were messages critical of specific government education policies, contained on posters posted on classroom doors and school bulletin boards, and on buttons worn by teachers. Pursuant to a directive from the school district that political posters and information should not be displayed in school hallways, classrooms, or on school grounds, some principals told teachers to stop displaying the posters and wearing the buttons.

This case dates specifically to January 2009, when campaign materials, such as posters and buttons, were circulated by the BCTF to teachers across the province. On 23 April 2009, the Director of Instruction and HR from School District No. 5 (Southeast Kootenay) forwarded a directive principals in the district advising them that the BCTF’s political materials had no place on school grounds other than the staff room. On 1 May 2009, the Cranbrook and Fernie Teachers’ Association forwarded a note to the Director advising that it disagreed with the 23 April directive.  Following a grievance filed by the BCTF, an arbitrator heard the case in March 2010 and denied the grievance, awarding in favour of the BCPSEA in October 2011.

The BCTF appealed the decision. Within Tuesday’s BC Court of Appeal decision is some of the strongest language for a defense of academic freedom for teachers and critical education methods:

There was no evidence in this case of any actual or potential harm to students from being exposed to the materials about educational issues, nor any facts from which an inference of harm could be drawn. On the contrary, Canadian jurisprudence, including Munroe, stands for the principle that open communication and debate about public, political issues is a hallmark of the free and democratic society the Charter is designed to protect. Children live in this diverse and multi-cultural society, and exposing them to diverse societal views and opinions is an important part of their educational experience.

Simply put, “the law supports the exercise by teachers of their right of free expression in schools.”

Court of Appeal Justice Hinkson provides a caveat:

I see no reason why students should receive less protection from the monopolization of the discourse of a societal issue than adults who are subjected to a flood of discourse on an electoral issue by proponents of one side to that issue. In the case of the students, the monopolization on the issue may deprive them of their right to be educated in a school system that is free from bias.

Where the issue upon which teachers choose to exercise their rights to free speech is a political one, their rights must be balanced against the rights of their students to an education that is free from bias. That brings into play, as it did in Harper, the concern that if a group is able to monopolize its message on any issue, competing views will be deprived of a reasonable opportunity to be heard…. However, the proportionality aspects of s. 1 of the Charter reserve for another case the evidence required to establish and the point at which teachers’ rights of freedom of expression in schools must yield to the rights of students to be educated in a school system that is free from bias.

This landmark decision  will certainly be put to test, as the case more generally dates back to over a decade of to-and-fro decisions over academic freedom for BC teachers and their right to free expression. Indeed, one of the best case studies of political speech and symbolic speech is that of the BCTF v. the BC Ministry of Education and BCPSEA from about 2002 to this present decision. Throughout this decade, BC teachers have progressively and systematically tested their rights to political and symbolic speech: posters on school bulletin boards, black arm bands, buttons, letters to parents, t-shirts, bumper stickers on cars in the school parking lot, and wearing black clothes.

“Your Majesty, please… I don’t like to complain,
But down here below, we are feeling great pain.
I know, up on top you are seeing great sights,
But down here at the bottom we, too, should have rights.”

In April 2012, amidst another round of disputed bargaining practices and the government’s imposition of the controversial Bill 22, teachers raised questions: “A Prince Rupert elementary teacher has been told a quote from Dr. Seuss’s Yertle the Turtle is a political statement that should not be displayed or worn on clothing in her classroom. The teacher included the quote in material she brought to a meeting with management after she received a notice relating to union material visible in her car on school property.”

Eight teachers in the Prince Rupert district received letters warning of “discipline for displaying political messages.” Joanna Larson, president of the Prince Rupert District Teachers’ local said “the administration doesn’t want students to see the messages.” “We feel very censored here right now. We have feelings that our rights to freedom of expression have been violated.”

To accent the 11th anniversary of BC government’s oppressive bills 27 and 28, which prevented the teachers from bargaining on issue such as class size, the BCTF and teachers organized a protest for January 28, 2013– a “Dark Day for Education” and “Wear Black Day.” Teachers wore black in their classrooms while the BCPSEA cautioned that “regardless of the colour of attire worn, teachers should not engage students in discussion about their political views.” Some teachers in Prince Rupert responded with new black t-shirts, this time remediating Shakespeare and quoting section 2(b) from the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms. But three teachers  were told to remove or cover the shirts.

The BC Civil Liberties Association (BCCLA) weighed in on 4 February 2013 by forwarding a letter to the Prince Rupert School Board and arguing that the ban was unconstitutional: “The school district’s decision to ban free speech about free speech reminds us of a badly-written comedy sketch. But this isn’t an Air Farce skit, it’s a troubling violation of teachers’ constitutional right to free expression,” said Lindsay Lyster, President of the BCCLA. “The School District has an obligation to respect free speech, and there is no lawful justification for the District to ban these t-shirts.”

Of course, quoting or paraphrasing one’s civil liberties in defiance has been part and parcel of protests throughout the past 300 years. And arguably one of the best political works in the Dr. Seuss catalog, Yertle the Turtle has for five decades been used for purposes of instruction in the classroom and symbolic and political speech, inside and out. Notoriously, the Red Hot Chili Peppers first rocked their expressive version of Yertle the Turtle in 1985. Most recently leading up to the Prince Rupert teacher’s utilization of parts of the text, Yertle the Turtle was used in the protests at the Wisconsin legislature in 2011 and the Occupy movement beginning in September 2011.

ICES colleague E. Wayne Ross recently articulated the necessity of “dangerous citizenship”— “critical citizenship, or social justice oriented citizenship” and civil liberties citizenship— in opposition to liberal notions of “good citizenship” that somehow pass for education in the schools. “There is a misguided and unfortunate tendency in our society to believe that  activities that strengthen or maintain the status quo are neutral or at least non-political,” Wayne observes, “while activities that critique or challenge the status quo are ‘political’ and inappropriate.”

A breath of fresh air, Tuesday’s decision from the BC Court of Appeal changes the tide for teachers. BCTF President Susan Lambert was buoyed by the decision, noting that

it’s about the right of teachers to express their concerns about the working conditions that they teach in and the learning conditions the students are taught in… It’s very important that we as a society encourage teachers to express their views and that we take those views seriously…. You don’t discuss and encourage critical thinking in children by shielding them from diverse views.

BCCLA challenges “laughable” ban on free speech by Prince Rupert school board

BC Civil Liberties Association — The BCCLA is calling on the Prince Rupert School District (No. 052) to reverse its ban on teachers wearing t-shirts displaying section 2 of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, the provision that protects free speech. The t-shirts display the Shakespeare-inspired question “2(b) or not 2(b)?” on the front, and the text of section 2 of the Charter on the back: 2(a) freedom of religion, 2(b) freedom of expression, 2(c) freedom of peaceful assembly, and 2(d) freedom of association.

The BCCLA argues that the ban on these t-shirts is a violation of the constitutional right to free speech displayed on the t-shirt itself. Freedom of expression guarantees the rights of speakers and listeners alike. In banning these shirts, the School District has violated both the teachers’ and students’ rights to learn, think and talk about their fundamental freedoms.

“The school district’s decision to ban free speech about free speech reminds us of a badly-written comedy sketch. But this isn’t an Air Farce skit, it’s a troubling violation of teachers’ constitutional right to free expression,” said Lindsay Lyster, President of the BCCLA. “The School District has an obligation to respect free speech, and there is no lawful justification for the District to ban these t-shirts.”

As a government body, School District No. 052 is bound by the Charter of Rights and Freedoms, including the guarantee of freedom of expression and freedom of association. Governments can only limit such rights in a narrow range of circumstances, according to legal tests established by the Supreme Court of Canada.

Lyster added that the ban on these t-shirts is contrary to the principle that schools should be places for open discussion and inquiry: “Banning these t-shirts seems to be short-sighted attempt to cut off discussion and thinking about the basic constitutional rights that the t-shirts display. We assume that this ban has provoked a lot of discussion among Prince Rupert students. Unfortunately, the District has provided an example of a government violating the constitutional rights for its students to discuss, rather than the better example of a government respecting those rights.”

See the BCCLA’s Letter to Prince Rupert School District Board

BC Civil Liberties Association wades in on teacher controversy

Vancouver Sun, Zoe McKnight, February 4, 2013 — The British Columbia Civil Liberties Association is accusing the Prince Rupert school board of infringing on teachers’ freedom of speech by banning the wearing of t-shirts printed with those exact Charter rights.

Three teachers in School District 52 were told last Monday to remove or cover their black t-shirts emblazoned with wording from Section 2 of the Canadian Charter of Rights, which includes the right to freedom of conscience and religion, freedom of thought and expression, freedom of peaceful assembly and freedom of association.

“The school district’s decision to ban free speech about free speech reminds us of a badly-written comedy sketch. But this isn’t an Air Farce skit — it’s a troubling violation of teachers’ constitutional right to free expression,” BCCLA president Lindsay Lyster said, adding that schools have an obligation to encourage open discussion.

In an open letter to chair Tina Last and other board members, Lyster asks the school district to rescind the ban on the t-shirts, which were part of a protest organized last week by the B.C. teachers’ union to mark the 11th anniversary of legislation stripping teachers’ rights to bargain class size and composition.

The school board said the t-shirts were a form of political messaging, which is against the rules.

Read more: Vancouver Sun

US National Resolution on High Stakes Testing

This resolution is modeled on the resolution passed by more than 360 Texas school boards as of April 23, 2012. It was written by Advancement Project; Asian American Legal Defense and Education Fund; FairTest; Forum for Education and Democracy; MecklenburgACTS; Deborah Meier; NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund, Inc.; National Education Association; New York Performance Standards Consortium; Tracy Novick; Parents Across America; Parents United for Responsible Education – Chicago; Diane Ravitch; Race to Nowhere; Time Out From Testing; and United Church of Christ Justice and Witness Ministries.

To sign the resolution, click here.

WHEREAS, our nation’s future well-being relies on a high-quality public education system that prepares all students for college, careers, citizenship and lifelong learning, and strengthens the nation’s social and economic well-being; and

WHEREAS, our nation’s school systems have been spending growing amounts of time, money and energy on high-stakes standardized testing, in which student performance on standardized tests is used to make major decisions affecting individual students, educators and schools; and

WHEREAS, the over-reliance on high-stakes standardized testing in state and federal accountability systems is undermining educational quality and equity in U.S. public schools by hampering educators’ efforts to focus on the broad range of learning experiences that promote the innovation, creativity, problem solving, collaboration, communication, critical thinking and deep subject-matter knowledge that will allow students to thrive in a democracy and an increasingly global society and economy; and

WHEREAS, it is widely recognized that standardized testing is an inadequate and often unreliable measure of both student learning and educator effectiveness; and

WHEREAS, the over-emphasis on standardized testing has caused considerable collateral damage in too many schools, including narrowing the curriculum, teaching to the test, reducing love of learning, pushing students out of school, driving excellent teachers out of the profession, and undermining school climate; and

WHEREAS, high-stakes standardized testing has negative effects for students from all backgrounds, and especially for low-income students, English language learners, children of color, and those with disabilities; and

WHEREAS, the culture and structure of the systems in which students learn must change in order to foster engaging school experiences that promote joy in learning, depth of thought and breadth of knowledge for students; therefore be it

RESOLVED, that [your organization name] calls on the governor, state legislature and state education boards and administrators to reexamine public school accountability systems in this state, and to develop a system based on multiple forms of assessment which does not require extensive standardized testing, more accurately reflects the broad range of student learning, and is used to support students and improve schools; and

RESOLVED, that [your organization name] calls on the U.S. Congress and Administration to overhaul the Elementary and Secondary Education Act, currently known as the “No Child Left Behind Act,” reduce the testing mandates, promote multiple forms of evidence of student learning and school quality in accountability, and not mandate any fixed role for the use of student test scores in evaluating educators.

“We want… education! When do we want it? Now!”

Detroit High School Protest: Students Suspended After Demanding ‘An Education’

About 50 students were suspended Thursday from the all-boys Frederick Douglass Academy in Detroit, Mich. for walking out of classes in protest, demanding “an education.”

Among their complaints: a lack of consistent teachers, the reassignment of the school principal, educators who abuse sick time and a shortage of textbooks.

Want to express your concern about the US federal government “leadership” in educational reform?

Check out the petition at dumpduncan.org

From the website:
“The future of public schools is in jeopardy. Private interests, aided by the Federal Government, are attempting to supplant local control and to transfer public funding to the hands of corporate interests. Public schools, locally controlled, are a cornerstone of our democracy. Relegating them to corporate-owned test prep factories places our nation at risk and steals our children’s future.”

The petition currently has 4300+ signatures.

Chicagoland researchers urge CPS to smarten up about using value added teacher evaluation

In an open letter to the Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel,
Chicago Public Schools CEO Jean-Claude Brizard, and the Chicago School Board educational researchers in and around Chicago offer a suggestion for caution in implementing a plan to use student achievement test scores as a substantial part of the evaluation of teachers and principals. They urge the CPS to:
1. Pilot and adjust the evaluation system before implementing it on a large scale.
2. Minimize the percentage that student growth counts in teacher or principal evaluation.

ICES Delivers Petition to BC Legislature

At lunch hour today, we collated and delivered, to BC Premier Clark and Minister Abbott, 400+ signatures from faculty members, librarians, administrators, students, and staff in post-secondary institutions across the province in support of BC Teachers and the BCTF.  See Petition Site for more.

Thank you to all who helped circulate and signed this petition!  Your activism and presence make a difference.

 

ICES Appeal to Boost Support BCTF Petition to 500+

Post-secondary Support of Teachers / BCTF Petition

We want to forward this petition to the Ministry at the 500+ mark today or tomorrow morning.  Please circulate and let’s boost this to 500+!  We are currently at 399 signatures…

Secondary Students Assert Power at the BC Rallies

Over a three day stretch, secondary students organized, marched, walked, spoke, and shouted out against oppressive labour legislation in British Columbia and for their teachers and the BCTF.  It’s rare that secondary students get opportunities to unify as a political force at the provincial level, but now in this labour dispute the students are making a difference.  On Friday, 2 March, thousands of students walked out of their classes and schools and rallied across the province.  In Vancouver, the students descended en masse for a rally at the gallery.

On Tuesday, 6 March, at the BC Fed and BCTF rally hundreds of the youth marched with the unions down Government Street and to the steps of the BC Legislature.  For the crowd of 6,000, two young women, Hannah Case and Erin Galbraith, spoke a lotta truth to a power undermining their teachers’ rights.   In Vancouver, on 7 March for the rally at the gallery, secondary students Navi Rai and Melissa Wong stood together on the steps and voiced their support for the teachers’ rights and their right to a fair government.  Both were active in organizing Friday’s walkout.  And raising the roof of nature, Chandler McCorkingdale rapped.  Sorry, BC Liberals, the students and the public are standing with the teachers.

Now, where in the world are the missing BC post-secondary students, especially the Education majors?  Especially now?  I know that some are organizing online.   And I know that the Canadian Federation of Students BC is 100% behind the BCTF and the teachers.  But across three rallies not a single post-secondary student signed onto the speaker’s lists.  Not a single one spoke while thousands of the secondary students have shown their strength as a political force.  Perhaps UBC’s Teacher Education Officer John Yamamoto’s interview with the CBC’s Morning Edition on 7 March is telling.  Yamamoto advised that the Education students should, nay must, remain neutral.  Some advice for the teacher candidates– one gets the sense that he thinks he is advising 700 administration candidates!  Where are the post-secondary students and will the CFS BC organize the group to be heard or present?