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Trustees wrangle over class size report

Classrooms in the Chilliwack school district may be meeting government requirements, but some trustees and teachers are arguing those requirements are not legal.

At Tuesday night’s board of education meeting, superintendent Michael Audet presented his class size and composition report, which will be sent to the B.C. Education Ministry for approval later this month.

In the report, it states that no kindergarten class in the district exceed 19 students, no grades 1-3 classes exceed 24 students, and no grades 4-7 classes exceed 30 students.

However, in grades 8-12, 124 classes do exceed 30 students.

Class size legislation in B.C. states that grades 1-3 classes cannot exceed 24 students without teacher consent; grades 4-7 classes cannot exceed 30 students without teacher consent; and grades 8-12 classes cannot exceed 30 students without teacher consultation.

“We are well within the expectations,” said Audet.

Legislation also states no more than three students with special needs, requiring individualized education plans (IEP) are permitted in a classroom without teacher consent.

In Chilliwack, there are 28 elementary classes and 234 middle and secondary classes with more than three special needs students requiring IEPs.

Audet said, as a general rule, the district does not have more than five students with IEPs in one class.

However, Chilliwack Teachers’ Association president Katharin Midzain said her numbers didn’t match up with the district’s.

“At the middle-secondary level, my information shows at least 71 classes with more than six IEPs, several with 11 or 12... and an additional 48 that have five,” said Midzain, who also opposed the consultation process.

The report showed 66 teachers had agreed to having 30 or more students in their class; to having more than three students with IEPs; or both.

“That means over 250 teachers disagreed,” said Midzain.

“We used to have language [in the collective agreement] that brought reasonable and real support to all our students,” but now, “it’s just a numbers game the ministry has us playing.”

A game trustee John Henry Harter said is illegal.

Last April, Madam Justice Susan Griffin with the B.C. Supreme Court ruled that the provincial government’s 2002 legislation, which stripped the teachers’ union from bargaining class size limits and composition was a violation of their bargaining rights.

“I would suggest to you that the supreme court actually found that the class size and composition legislation in the school act is illegal,” said Harter.

“I don’t think, in good conscience, we can actually support something that shouldn’t be in the school act. And that is not just my opinion, it is the supreme court’s.”

Trustee Silvia Dyck, however, said the ruling was a matter of interpretation and that she was comfortable supporting the superintendent’s report.

The report was approved with Harter and trustee Louise Piper in opposition.

kbartel@theprogress.com

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