Teachers thinking about attending public hearings on the plan to change the way French is taught in New Brunswick have been warned by their union to watch what they say.
The message was sent by email Monday to all members of the New Brunswick Teachers' Association.
"Teachers are free to publicly express their opinions on pedagogical issues," according to the letter, a copy of which was obtained by CBC News. "Factual opinions expressed in an objective and respectful manner are critical to authentic consultation."
But, teachers were reminded that "the professional hat of teacher can never be removed.
"Given this, we advise that teachers cannot speak in any specificity regarding their individual students, or their families, as this would be a breach of confidentiality."
Teachers were also cautioned against using "words or actions that would discredit or bring disrepute to themselves, our profession or the education system."
Doing so, it warned, "could result in sanctions from their employer or their professional association."
The letter said union officials were present as observers at the consultations held in Bathurst and Moncton.
"There will also be staff present at this week's planned consultations in Saint John, Fredericton and the upcoming online sessions," said the message.
When contacted on Tuesday, union president Connie Keating said the letter has been "misconstrued."
She said it was intended to "empower teachers who were concerned that they should not speak up" during consultations.
"The NBTA encourages teachers to continue to share their professional views in a respectful way while being mindful of their position of trust as they have at the first two consultations."
Keating said staff members attended the meeting "to be supportive of teachers and witness" the Department of Education's process."
She was not made available for an interview, as requested.
Proposed changes criticized
Last month, Education Minister Bill Hogan announced changes to the way French is taught. The changes mean more French for non-immersion students, but less than immersion students currently receive.
The planned changes have received a lot of criticism since first announced. In a live-streamed but scripted question-and-answer session last week, Hogan said changes to the program could still be made, based on feedback from several public sessions.
Around 300 people attended Monday's session in Moncton, where tempers flared and hecklers often disrupted the proceedings. About 20 people spoke during the two-hour event — none in support of the proposed changes.
In early January, the teachers' association polled its members about the proposed program. Nearly 90 per cent of the 1,462 teachers who responded "do not believe the [Department of Education] is keeping them well informed about the changes," according to Monday's email sent to teachers.
Sixty-five per cent reported feeling "dismayed" by what the government is calling the "innovative immersion program." The email also included several quotes from teachers describing why they are dismayed, including:
"We barely have time to cover everything we have to cover in English. How are we going to cover everything and then add in French as well?
"How is EECD going to provide a balanced, well-thought-out curriculum for the new program in such a short period of time?"
"I have been teaching 25 years in kindergarten this year. I should not at this point have to worry about what I will be teaching next year. Will I be forced to retire before I am financially or emotionally ready?"
"It is awful, in my opinion, that we are not having conversations around the real issues … lack of EAs, lack of support services, lack of supply teachers, lack of teachers in general for that matter."
"It is disheartening to be part of the continual "change" culture which is the Dept of Ed. I do believe that French Immersion has resulted in numerous bilingual people entering our workforce."
The Department of Education and Early Childhood Development was asked on Tuesday morning for comment about the letter from the NBTA, but has not provided one by publication time.
Two down, two to go
Two more in-person sessions are planned this week:
Jan. 24 at the Delta Saint John.
Jan. 25 at the Delta Fredericton.
Each will be held from 6:30 p.m. to 8:30 p.m.
There will also be two virtual sessions, one on Jan. 31 and the other on Feb. 2.
The online survey will continue to be available until Feb. 3.