Students aren’t mentioned in collective agreements

Why aren’t students, and “student well-being & achievement”, part of every Public School collective agreement?


Most education-sector unions believe that student-needs have no place in collective agreements.  Collective agreements for factories, warehouses, and office workers don’t mention the needs of machinery, shelving, or printers.  Following this industrial model, a typical education-sector agreement treats students as widgets, not as people.

This reflects the nature of the laws governing how employees and employers are to reach agreements: employee unions have the explicit legal obligation to advance the interest of their members.  But nothing prevents a school contract from including clauses that put student well-being equal to or ahead of the rights of school staff and board administrators (see the Cleveland teachers agreement inn the Resources section below).

In November 2014 the Public Board of the Ontario Student Trustees Association  put out this policy position paper calling for student needs to be a major part of education sector collective agreement terms.

Most media reports concentrate on issues involving salaries, sick days, and vacation time.  Very little attention is given to the rules that determine what happens in the classroom and in the school, or the way these rules will affect students.

Each collective agreement has unique terms.  The details  matter to how well schools are able to support student well-being and achievement.

Knowing the terms of the collective agreements will help parents and students better understand how to work with their schools.  Many boards and unions consider their collective agreements to be confidential and don’t make them available to the public on their websites. (Upper Grand elementary).  This inexplicable lack of transparency does nothing to enhance public confidence in our public schools.

The RESOURCES section below includes links to a few collective agreements involving publicly-funded schools. The language of many agreements is legalese, but if you work your way through one or two of them, you’ll be surprised at how few mentions there are of students.  (If you want to save time and blurry eyes, click a link and then search for “student” and see what comes up.)



Resources (Ottawa elementary teachers) There are 17 mentions of students, all of which dealing with administrative issues. (Toronto caretakers and bus drivers) For a particularly egregious example of how a collective agreement can put the interests of adults ahead of students, see J3.1 (pg 121). It  states that a “notification of discipline” arising from “an act of physical or sexual harassment and/or abuse of a student” shall be removed from an employee’s file after 5 years!  (In contrast to this, the equivalent agreement between the District School Board of Niagara and CUPE provides no ability to remove a notice of discipline related to an act involving a student (Toronto Special Needs Assistants)  When assigning a “special needs assistant” (SNA), seniority and tenure trump the needs of the most vulnerable students.  SNAs support children with significant learning and behavioural challenges, often often students living with autism.  In many cases an SNA will work one-on-one with a student for years, allowing the student to form a close bond with the SNA and the SNA to learn the unique needs of the student.  BB.11.12 (pg 130) recognizes this relationship and notes that the student and the SNA form a team that ideally should remain together even when the student moves to a new school.  However, if an SNA is available in the new school, that SNA is assigned to the student and a team that may have been together for years is split up.  No consideration is to be given to the emotional well-being of the vulnerable student. In addition, the agreement has no provisions to replace an SNA with whom the student will not work or who has no aptitude to deal with the student’s specific needs.  BB13 (pg 131) does put consistency of student support ahead of seniority and tenure, but only for those students whose challenges are so profound that they need 3 or more full-time support assistants. (Winnipeg) gives a tiny nod to students in the non-binding Purpose section, though even here students have been put into third place behind both staff and taxpayers: “to provide a basis for both parties to improve the professional services rendered to the taxpayers and the students”  These sorts of preambles have no real weight in including student needs as part of school operating decisions. (New Brunswick teachers) gives a tiny nod to student learning almost as an after-thought in a non-binding Premable to a side Letter of Intent (Schedule N, pg 96): “The NBTF and the Employer recognize that the professional learning of teachers is of great importance to optimize student learning.” (Cleveland teachers) provides several examples of how student well-being and achievement can be included in a teacher collective agreement. Article 9 Section 5 (page 31) deals with how a teacher should use planning time: “In any building in which common planning time is in lieu of a class assignment for teachers who are part of a contractually recognized team or other negotiated collaboration, the teacher shall use that common planning time for its intended purpose — to plan with other members of his/her team to provide better motivational and/or instructional services to students.”  Then Article 10 Section 5 (pg 38) states: “Lesson plans should be considered as a guideline for effective instruction.”  Article 8 Section 11 (pg 44): “A.…Each certificated/licensed employee in the District is encouraged to develop skills necessary to assist students to improve in reading.” Article 13 (pg 54) on Teacher Development: “The District and the Union agree that an effective Teacher Development and Evaluation System must encompass teacher performance, growth and development and enhance student learning. (Miami-Dade teachers) XVII.4 (pg 69) provides a clear statement that acknowledges student well-being as a factor to be used to protect the interests of a specially vulnerable child needing continuity of personal relationships: “The parties agree that it may be in the student’s best interest for a One-To-One Paraprofessional to accompany a student who moves from one site to another.” Unfortunately this seems to be the single “student-needs” clause in the 279 page agreement.

Prior to Ontario’s heated 2015 public school collective agreement negotiations, the unions and school boards involved set priorities for the year.  The unions’ priorities made no mention of student needs.  All 5 of the school boards’ priorities were about student well-being and achievement.

(NOTE: Historical and current electoral compromises have led to Ontario having publicly-funded parochial schools that are affiliated with the Catholic Church and that teach Catholic dogma.)  During Ontario’s 2015 labour dispute, the Ontario English Catholic Teachers Association issued 10 “commandments” (2 Thou Shalt; 8 Thou Shall Not) to their teachers that made it clear that the union leaders were very willing to use the well-being of children and youth as a bargaining chip.