N.W.T. parents and MLAs blast education department over reducing instructional hours

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N.W.T. parents and MLAs blast education department over reducing instructional hours

Parents and MLAs blasted the N.W.T.'s education department at a public hearing on Friday over its plan to reduce instructional hours for students.

The department is proposing a change to the education act that would lower the minimum number of instructional time to 945 hours — a reduction of up to 100 hours of class time.

Implementation of the reduction has already begun under a three-year pilot project.

The reduction was promised to teachers in a "memorandum of understanding" during contract negotiations with the territorial government.

That promise upset R.J. Simpson, MLA for Hay River North. He believes the education department is forcing the hand of lawmakers.

He got to question the department on Friday during a public hearing held by the Standing Committee for Social Development.

"It's not the way this government is supposed to work. It's not the way democracy is supposed to work," Simpson said.

"The department sort of usurped the authority of this committee."

Alfred Moses, minister of Education, doesn't see it that way.

He said the pilot project can still go ahead at the elementary school level without legislative change, because most elementary schools in the territory provide more instructional hours than are currently legislated.

"This is something that the teachers wanted when the MOU was developed. We wanted to respect their wellness and their workload," Moses said.

"Should the bill not pass... then all our teachers teaching at the high school level would have a harder time."

Public feedback

Moses said the Department of Education plans to take the bill on the road for public input.

Stephanie Irlbacher-Fox, a Yellowknife parent, provided her input after Moses took questions from MLAs.

However, the minister and his senior management did not stick around for public presentations.

That made Irlbacher-Fox question whether the department is sincerely seeking public feedback, or if decisions have already been made about the reduction in instructional hours.

"There have been no other alternatives, to my knowledge, put before the public, put before MLAs, or possible through this legislation," Fox said.

"The minister talked about how they wanted to hear from the public and that they are engaging with people, and to get up and leave before people gave their views, makes that look a little less than truthful or sincere."

Shane Thompson, chair of the Standing Committee for Social Development, said someone with the Department of Education was in attendance taking notes.

Written submissions to the committee will be accepted until April 13.