Ensign Makes Big Mistake

FTLComm - Tisdale - September 9, 2000

Yesterday morning Ensign reported the situation on the Saskatchewan Teachers work -to- rule job action and how that is affecting us in Tisdale. Well a big, and I mean really big blunder occured.

The picture on the right was taken at 8:20 and shows a large number of cars in the TMSS parking lot. Without thinking I made the assumption that those cars belonged to teachers at TMSS. What I failed to realise is that with the development of TMSS as a part of a multi-use facility this parking lot is used by all the other agencies who use the facility. Pasquia Health Centre, Cumberland Community College, the day care and other workers who are not members of the Saskatchewan Teachers Federation. Well those folks are the owners of all these cars and the teachers were not at school when this picture was taken. My sincerest appologies to the staff at TMSS.

But this issue of a work-to-rule action is one we all need to talk about. I can talk about this with some authority as I began my career as a school principal in 1968 and served throughout Western Canada in that capacity in all three Western provinces and the Yukon territory. In each jurisdiction the guiding and directing document that establishes and governs publicly funded education is the education act. In all four juridictions they are remarkably similar and the responsibilities of the school principal are extremely clearly defined.

On Friday morning as I drove by TMSS and the elementary school it struck me that this was a dangerous and potentially impossible delemma for both administrators and parents alike. When your child goes off to school you have the assurance under the education act that your child will be cared for as though you were there yourself. The legal term is called "loco parentis" which means that the teacher and school principal act on your behalf as you would for your child's safety and well being. That responsiblity can not be donated or abdicated, you depend on the education act to insure your child's safety and in turn the principal and his or her teachers accept that responsiblity which is not taken lightly.

Now please consider this only as a hypothetical situation, but consider it, because it brings into question the safety of this present situation. What if a child or group of children decide to act in a dangerous manner before morning classes or during the noon hour when normally the principal would have made provision for safe supervision of the school's playground. Supposing a child were injured, who would be responsible. This problem troubles me because I don't think anything that the principal or the board does can cover this situation short of re-writing the education act. The responsiblity is in the hands of the principal to determine if the situation is safe or not. He or she alone are bound by law to protect the children of the school from the time they leave home until they return home and with his or her staff working to rule I do not think he can, as a court of law would determine, act as a reasonable person and claim that the situation is safe.

Once as a principal a dangerous chemical was released under my high school and fourteen students immediately became ill, some were sent to hospital and six teachers were immediately incompacitated. I was among three other teachers less seriously affected but it took two years for me to recover from the affects of the chemical. I called my director of education and told him of the situation and explained that I had no choice but to close the school. The director, fearing a possible law suit, told me in no uncertain terms not to close the school. Fearing the loss of my job, I complied. I was wrong. The public health authorities, the local doctor and others were furious and I consider myself damn lucky not to have been prosecuted both in criminal court and in civil action. The only thing that prevented action against me was the fact that no one was permanently injured or died. The education act determines that as the person in charge it was my responsiblity, not my director's to determine the safety of the situation and it was my neck, not his, on the line.

I tell you this story to point out that this work-to-rule situation is precarious and the responsible action at this time by school boards who would be named in any possible suits related to possible injury, would be to close the schools until the situation is resolved. Working to rules, partial withdrawal of services is not a viable or even legal option if one considers the saftely of the children.