Here in British Columbia, classes are cancelled as teachers escalate their job action. This has been coming for a while, and at Daybreak we’ve been looking around for guests to provide different perspectives on the story.
Among those we figured it would be good to hear from are teachers. This led me to reading up on School District 57 (which serves Prince George) policy that affects whether teachers can speak in public or to media. It’s all available from sd57.bc.ca.
First, Policy 1110 – Communications, Section 1:
“The Chairperson of the Board, or designate, and the Superintendent of Schools, or designate, are the official spokespersons for the school district.”
and Policy 1110 – Communications, Section 2:
“The school principal, or designate, is the official spokesperson for the school and is responsible for maintaining positive communications between the school and its community.”
Which both make sense, but I don’t see how either prevents teachers from speaking as teachers, so long as they aren’t presented as speaking for anyone else.
For that we go to Policy 1170.3 – Rights and Responsibilities of Employees, specifically the following:
“Subject to the School Act and regulations, the Labour Relations Code and other relevant government legislation, district bylaws and policies and collective agreements, the district believes that employees have, but are not limited to, the responsibility to contribute to the positive climate and reputation of the school, the district and public education.”
“Employees have the responsibility to follow certain standards of conduct. Employees must: Not engage in irresponsible public comment that would undermine confidence in the public education system.”
What I find interesting is just how open these are to interpretation, at least to my outside eye. What exactly warrants contributing to the positive reputation of public education? Or undermining confidence in the public education system?
Let’s say there’s not enough money to buy proper textbooks for a classroom, and the information being taught is completely out-of-date and wrong. I think there’s a good chance that if a teacher were to say this publicly, there would be some people for which this would potentially “undermine confidence in the public education system.” Does that mean the teacher can’t share this information in a public space? Or to anyone at all, for fear that it might not contribute to a positive reputation for the school or system? And in our post-2005 world– can they put this information in a Facebook status?
What about during this job action? Can teachers talk about things they think are wrong with the way the education system is being handled by government? Or would that undermine confidence and fail to contribute to a positive reputation?
These would be salient issues anytime, but at a time when there is widescale discussion about where public education is going in this province, it’s particularly acute. Moreso because this is the first time this sort of job action and discussion has been accompanied by widespread use of social media platforms like Facebook, blogs, and Twitter. Already, I’ve seen a number of blog posts or Facebook statuses by teachers go viral within their networks. Most of this is happening in other districts, though. Are they governed by the same rules that are seen in school district 57? Or would a critical blog post from a teacher here have different consequences?
I’m well aware that teachers are not unique in being tethered by certain rules surrounding their behaviour in traditional media and social media. Just a while ago, nurses in this province were warned of the potential consequences of overly-lucid Tweets. CBC has its own set of rules employees are expected to follow. It makes sense- you want professionals to look professional.
But if I were a teacher, I’d be very interested in knowing exactly how those policies apply to what I say and do, both in my real life, and in my digital one.
Oh, and incidentally, I tweeted this question earlier. Here’s some of the response I got.
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