Safety concerns prompt teacher’s resignation

An acclaimed Chilliwck technology education teacher would rather resign than see a tragedy he says is inevitable.

Eric Munshaw

Chilliwack shop teacher Eric Munshaw is resigning from teaching; not because he’s ready for retirement, but because he’s lost confidence in the education system.

Specifically at the Chilliwack level.

For five years, Munshaw, technology education teacher at Mt. Slesse middle school, has been advocating for smaller class sizes in the name of student safety. When Bill 33 was passed by the B.C. Education Ministry, in 2009, the number of students in shop classes increased across the province – despite the heavy duty equipment, and the shops themselves mostly designed for a maximum of 24 students.

(Bill 33 enabled class size in grades 4-7 to exceed 30 students with teacher consent, and in grades 8-12 with teacher consultation.)

“We just need one accident and that’s negligence,” said Munshaw.

“We’re not talking insignificant injuries, we’re talking life-altering, amputations, or worse – and that’s where we’ve been coming from since Day 1 on this.”

Munshaw has presented his concerns at school board meetings, has had private meetings with senior administration, was a leading force on the province’s best practices guide for industrial education released two years ago. He even met with then Minister of Education George Abbott.

His message has been the same: “safer” class sizes of 24 or less students.

To date, Munshaw has seen no change in safety protocol.

“They’re just not hearing us,” he said.

“If we keep allowing the situation to continue, well, then you’re now part of the problem too aren’t you? At a certain point, you’ve got to take a stand for things that are really important. This is just wrong. It’s unsafe. It’s no longer a good learning environment.”

Assistant superintendent Rohan Arul-Pragasam told The Progress “student safety is paramount” in the Chilliwack school district, and that principals take great care every year organizing their various classes “in collaboration with staff.”

“School principals are aware of the unique safety issues pertaining to students working and learning in industrial education classes, which include reviewing class size and composition, educational assistant supports for ministry designated students, as well as availability of safe working spaces,” said Arul-Pragasam.

“I believe strongly that those things are taken into consideration when placing kids in technology classes.”

In Chilliwack, the school district has a voluntary commitment in place to ensure all classes in grades 4-12 not exceed 30 students, with the exception of classes, like band, that allow for more students.

But that’s not good enough for Munshaw.

In an unofficial poll of his colleagues, Munshaw counted 28 Chilliwack shop classes, as of November, exceeding 24 students, some as high as 30.

“Seems to me, the policy makers, both locally and provincially, do not really care about student safety and effective programs,” he said.

“I do not plan on being around when someone is hurt.”

For Munshaw, who’s been teaching for 32 years, 16 in the Chilliwack school district, a job he’s for the most part loved, resigning wasn’t easy.

“If all things had been equal, I probably would have been happy to teach another five years,” he said. “This is not the way I would have wanted to do it. There is no closure on this one, I’m not celebrating anything. I feel, for me personally, it’s the end of the road.”

He hopes others – parents, teachers, principals, and policy makers – will take the lead and eventually change will be enacted.

“We’re on borrowed time here,” he said.

“We’re kneecapping the education system. We’ve got classes so loaded, kids are lining up, they’re frustrated, they’re bored because they can’t get onto the equipment, they’re getting into mischief –they’re kids.”

Munshaw’s last day is Jan. 30; just two months after accepting a lifetime achievement award from the BC Technology Education Association.