By Jim Wilson
A recent book and movie blockbuster is the “The Hunger Games”. Its theme was that a few individuals of the lower orders could be sacrificed in order to satisfy the whims of the ruling class. Maybe the Montreal Teachers Association [MTA] has been influenced by this idea.
This notion of sacrificing the few can be found in the recently signed agreement between the English Montreal School Board [EMSB] and the MTA. Unfortunately the new development seems to have flown under the rank and file teachers’ radar. This new clause, ‘offered’ by the EMSB, and accepted by the MTA, is that a teacher can be compulsorily transferred to another school “at the discretion of the board”. This transfer would supposedly “replace a serious disciplinary measure”; hitherto, disciplinary issues were issued through formal actions, such as letters of warning, reprimand or suspensions. If the matter were serious, why not handle it formally, and allow due process to proceed? If there is a problem in one school, why is a move to another the solution? Is it a way of sweeping a problem under the rug?
For those familiar with union/board relations south of the border, these developments should be ringing an alarm for teachers. In a recent case in Washington D.C., an experienced and respected teacher encountered some inappropriate school practices and revealed that ineligible students were being given diplomas. He sinned again by producing anti-cheating material by having the same test rearranged on different pages, but this produced a complaint from the administrator that the teacher was creating an “expectation that the students would cheat”. The teacher found himself ‘involuntarily transferred’ to another school on the other side of town, due to ‘educational philosophical differences’
There is a nagging suspicious that this new agreement provides the board with a tool to intimidate any teachers, who, like their American colleague, would consider voicing genuine concerns about the operation of a school, or, for that matter, the board itself. Normally, a disciplinary action produces a grievance, left to be settled by an arbitrator, but in the EMSB/MTA agreement, the compulsory transfer replaces disciplinary action. How can the union dispute the right for board to act in this arbitrary manner? The union agreed to it. Given the size of the board, a teacher’s travel obligations and costs could be seriously affected by a transfer to a new school. Compulsory transfers are, ostensibly, punishments, which do little for the teacher, the new staff or the students.