At a Board meeting held on September 11, 2013, the Toronto District School Board ("TDSB") trustees passed a motion to ask the provincial government whether its new seniority hiring rule contravenes Ontario's Human Rights Code.1
The controversial regulation requires school principals to hire teachers from among the five applicants with the most seniority. Certain TDSB trustees argued that this new regulation may violate the board's obligation to employ a diverse workforce under the Human Rights Code.2
The TDSB motion asks the Director of Education to request that the Minister of Education, Liz Sandals, "submit a request to the Divisional Court for an opinion and a decision "as to whether the school board can avoid the new seniority hiring regulation if it conflicts with the Human Rights Code or a provincial policy that calls for bias-free hiring.
The TDSB also requested that the Minister of Education seek the views, in writing, of the Ontario Human Rights Commission as to whether complying with Regulation 274 would conflict with the school board's duties under provincial policy.
In addition, the TDSB directed its Director of Education to implement safeguards in the hiring process to prevent, to the extent reasonably possible, nepostic hiring and promotion practices, and to ensure fair and transparent hiring and promotion practices.
The TDSB has seen the diversity of its staff grow each year, with some 39 percent of new teachers hired in the 2012/2013 school year identifying themselves as racial minorities, up from 22 percent in the 2006/2007 school year.3
TDSB trustees have pointed out that the newer group of teachers came from more diverse backgrounds as a result of broader recruitment from teachers colleges and many school boards. Reducing the prospects for recent graduates could result in a move away from a more diverse teaching staff.
The Dean of York University's Faculty of Education, Ron Owston has said that he believes school boards can avoid nepotism by using standard hiring processes rather than the "heavy-handed" tool of seniority.4 Dean Owston stated, "The diversity of our students has definitely grown, so if you're hiring teachers who graduated a few years ago and have been occasional teaches for a longer time, they may not be as diverse a group."5
Education Minister Sandals has said that she would be willing to discuss the board's request for a legal opinion as to whether Regulation 274 contravenes the Human Rights Code by leading to a less diverse teaching staff.
The TDSB motion pointed out that a 2007 settlement between the Ministry of Education and the Ontario Human Rights Commission made a diverse workforce a priority and that the Code has primacy over all other provincial legislation.
The motion also confirms that a 2009 Ministry policy (PPM 119) provides that a school board's workforce "should reflect the diversity within the community so that students, parents, and community members are able to see themselves represented." Ministry policy states that the board's workforce should be capable of understanding and responding to the experiences of the diverse communities within the board's jurisdiction.
TDSB Trustee Howard Goodman said that the new seniority rule puts new teachers at a disadvantage.6 "If we have a school with, for example, many Vietnamese students but not one staff person who speaks Vietnamese – but we get a new grad applying who speaks Vietnamese, we want that person in the school." Mr. Goodman stated, "It's good for students and parents and other staff."7
Regulation 274 was introduced after the Ontario English Catholic Teachers' Association complained about nepotism in their boards and the Ministry of Education later applied it to all boards across the province.
Critics of Regulation 274 say that it denies positions to talented young teachers who find themselves not eligible for permanent jobs or even job interviews. Those critics state that school principals should hire the teachers who are the best fit for the job, regardless of how much time teachers spend in supply positions.8
On September 25, 2013, Conservative MPP Lisa MacLeod introduced a private member's bill that would end the rule that forces Ontario principals to hire teachers with the most seniority. The Tory bill would require school boards to have fair hiring policies approved by the province. The bill would also return to principals the authority to hire the teacher they want for long-term and permanent positions.
The new hiring rules in Regulation 274 are opposed by other school boards, all four school board associations and the deans of Ontario's faculties of education. The Ministry of Education has struck committees with both the Ontario Secondary School Teachers' Federation and the Elementary Teachers' Federation of Ontario to consider changes to the legislation.
1 L. Brown and K. Rushowy, "Toronto trustees wrestle with seniority-hiring rule," Toronto Star(September 11, 2013) at http://www.thestar.com/yourtoronto/education/2013/09/11/toronto_trustees_wrestle_with_seniorityhiring_rule.html
2 K. Rushowy and L. Brown, "TDSB trustee wants legal opinion on Regulation 274, the seniority hiring rule", Toronto Star (September 11, 2013) at http://www.thestar.com/news/gta/2013/09/11/tdsb_trustee_wants_legal_opinion_on_regulation_274_the_seniority_hiring_rule.html.
6 L. Brown and K. Rushowy, op. cit., footnote 1.
8 K. Rushowy and L. Brown, op. cit., footnote 2.
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