Opening exercises at school count as instructional time: Court

Arbitration board and court agree the singing of the national anthem and school announcements are instructional in nature

The Manitoba Court of Queen’s Bench has upheld an arbitration decision that the opening exercises of the school day count as instructional time.

The Winnipeg Teachers’ Association had a collective agreement with the Winnipeg School Division that stipulated instructional time must be five and one-half hours each day. Teachers were required to be in the classroom for the start of the school day 15 minutes before instructional time started. During this 15-minute period, teachers would supervise the arrival of students in the classroom. At the beginning of instructional time, opening exercises, which included the singing of “O Canada” and school announcements, would proceed.

The school division eventually decided to move the opening exercises to the first 15 minutes of the school day but maintained the five and one-half hour instructional time. The teachers’ association filed a grievance, saying the school division violated the collective agreement by adding to the length of the instructional day.

The arbitration board found “instructional day” was student oriented and referred to time used for the instruction of students. Opening exercises should be considered part of the instructional day, it said, and adding them to the first 15 minutes of the school day increased the length of the instructional day.

On the appeal, the court agreed with the board’s decision, saying the appropriate standard was reasonableness and the board’s decision was reasonable.

The court found teachers were required to monitor student behaviour during opening exercises and to ensure they follow the guidelines of standing erect during the national anthem. The singing of “O Canada” was designed to reinforce the importance of patriotism and Canadian citizenship and therefore had instructional value, the court said. The announcements communicated “matters of student conduct, rules and regulations, educational activities and extracurricular events” which could also be considered instruction. The court agreed that “instruction can encompass more than the curriculum.”

“When ‘O Canada’ is sung and announcements follow, the board noted that the teachers’ responsibilities are more focused than during the period of time that precedes the beginning of the instructional day,” the court said. “Opening exercises were characterized as being more consistent with the way a classroom exercise would be performed than the simple monitoring responsibility associated with supervising students as they arrive for school.”

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