Early Bell Ringing Did Not Result in Increased Instruction Time

April 25, 2013 | Dirk L. Van de Kamer

The school bells
at twelve Ottawa area elementary schools were sounding between three and ten
minutes prior to the published start times of the schools. The Union filed a
grievance alleging a violation of the instructional minutes maximum enshrined
in the collective agreement. In the Union’s view, the early bell ringing
required students to enter their school early, which had the effect of
improperly prolonging teachers’ instructional time.

The Board asserted
that students were being provided extra time to visit their lockers and were
not required to enter the schools with the early sounding of the bells.

When the
arbitrator sided with the Union and ordered compensation to affected teachers,
the Board filed an application of Judicial Review with the Divisional Court.

The Divisional
Court quashed the arbitrator’s decision and remitted the matter for
reconsideration before a different arbitrator. In doing so, the Court reasoned
that the arbitrator failed to address and answer the central issue before her:
namely, whether the early ringing of the bells permitted students to enter the schools or required them to do so. Rather, the Court reasoned, the arbitrator
wrongly focussed on whether the activities which some teachers engaged in
(after the early ringing of the bells and before the published start times)
amounted to “instructional” time.

The Court further
concluded that the Union could only establish that instructional times were
exceeded by proving that students were required to enter the schools with the
early sounding of the bells. On the face of the record, the Court ruled, this
had not be proven.

The Court was
particularly critical of the arbirator’s remedial order and noted that there
was no basis for ordering compensation as the affected teachers did not have to
work any longer than their colleagues at other schools and did not take on any extra
duties. In fact, the Court noted, some teachers simply continued to drink
coffee in the staff room or locked themselves in their classroom while students
lined up in the hall.


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