Court ruling leads to new hires at Haida Gwaii schools

Haida Gwaii public schools will get more teaching help this semester thanks to a recent Supreme Court ruling.

Students in Haida Gwaii public schools will get more teaching help this semester thanks to a Supreme Court ruling that revoked some 15-year-old budget cuts.

Following the November court ruling, the school district will receive $98,793 for the remaining school year enough to hire the equivalent of about two full-time teachers.

“This is just a stop-gap measure,” said Stephen Querengesser, president of the Haida Gwaii Teachers Association.

“We’re hoping that next year it will actually be much more.”

Staff, principals, and the local teachers’ union agreed to portion the funding across all six schools on island.

At Port Clements Elementary, the funding means the school will no longer have a single class split between students in four different grades. Avoiding four-grade splits is a priority across the district.

The funding will also support extra-help classes in subjects such as reading or math.

Across the province, school districts received a total of $50 million to start restoring funding lost in 2002 and 2012 in what the Supreme Court found were unconstitutional acts by the B.C. government.

The Ministry of Education overstepped its bounds by overruling teachers’ right to negotiate class-size limits.

On Haida Gwaii, class sizes are limited to 30 students for Grades 4 to 12, 22 students for Grades 1 to 3, and 20 students for kindergarten. Any exceptions require consulting with the teacher.

The Supreme Court also upheld B.C. teachers’ right to negotiate the number of special-needs students in a class with a single teacher, as well as the number of specialist teachers such as music or special education teachers hired for a given size of school.

The B.C. government began restoring some of the funds in 2013 when it set up an $80 million, annual fund to hire teachers and education assistants.

For the next school year, that top-up fund and this year’s $50-million interim funding will be replaced by a larger, ongoing education budget. The B.C. Teachers Federation says about $350 million is needed to restore the classroom conditions of 2002.

Querengesser said restoring those teaching and teaching assistant positions is essential to improving education on island.

“These positions are a response to the fact that our government has been underfunding the students’ needs for such a long time,” he said.

“Regardless of what the government says and how excited they are to put more money into education, all of this money is coming from what teachers fought for in the courts for 15 years.”