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School Board and Teachers Team Up to Shaft Handicapped Students

The Lester B. Pearson school board recently offered teachers extra money to drop their grievances regarding oversized classes, especially those containing handicapped students. The grievances said the classes were over the maximum allowed by Quebec rules which are meant to ensure that teachers have enough time for both handicapped and non-handicapped students in their classes. The teachers took the money and dropped their grievances. The students still don't get the attention they need.

School Boards in Quebec are not supposed to exceed maximum class sizes and, within the program to integrate handicapped students into the classroom, such students count for more than one student to take into account the greater demand on the teacher's time such students make. Since students come and go during the year and since some students develop disabilities while in a particular class, normal planning would be to work with a certain amount of leeway, based on experience, so that these variations can be accomodated.

That's not what Quebec school boards and the Lester B. Pearson school board do - they stuff the classes to their maximum and, if they exceed the maximum because of changes during the year, they ignore it until the teachers file grievances and those are close to being heard. That buys them some time, at the expense of the students and teachers, but finally they have to do something.

As usual, the Lester B. Pearson school board found itself in exactly that situation recently. What it decided to do was offer the teachers more money to drop their grievance. Essentially, the school board said, "OK, teachers, although we have up to now said that there is no problem and your grievance is unjustified, we've changed our mind. You're right - the classes are too big. So here's some money. Now shut up." The teachers agreed. The students, including the handicapped students, are still in the overcrowded classrooms with teachers who don't have time for them.

This action on the part of the teachers will be an interesting factor when the teachers ask for public support once their "work-to-rule" campaign kicks into high gear. They will be refusing to organize activities and they will only do what is in their contract. They will be saying that they have the students' best interests at heart in the long term when this obviously hasn't been the case here.

For those residents who think this is just a problem in the schools, the last time this happened the problems affected the community. During the 1999/2000 school year the teachers had a "work-to-rule" campaign in effect for most of the year. No extra-curricular activities were organized and the students were forbidden to organize their own. The graduating class, which had an ambitious program of celebration and activities planned, was especially hard hit. The schools experienced increased discipline problems including abuse of teachers and vandalism which spilled over into the community. Many students became alienated and angry. Why wouldn't they?