Teacher entitled to refuse meeting during prep time, arbitrator rules

Didn't want negative performance evaluation immediately before class time

An Ontario arbitrator has ruled a teacher shouldn’t have been penalized for refusing to have a meeting during her allotted preparation time.

Jennifer Black, a teacher in Stittsville, Ont., had some performance issues in 2005 that required a series of meetings with the school’s principal. Most of these meetings were held during Black’s preparation time and she had no objection.

The principal wanted to meet one more time to give her a summative report on her performance. This would give her a time period to improve her performance, outline the areas where she needed to improve and allow her to develop an improvement plan with the principal. The deadline for giving the report to Black was Jan. 31, 2006.

The principal spoke with Black on Jan. 27 and agreed to meet on Jan. 31 for about an hour, part of which would be during Black’s preparation time. However, Black later expressed displeasure with using her preparation time to receive the summative report and the fact she had to return to the classroom immediately following the meeting. She asked to reschedule so she would have more time to prepare for the report. The board refused her request.

Black and her union representative attended the meeting but wanted to leave after receiving the report and improvement plan without any discussion or suggestions. The principal required her to stay longer and Black filed a grievance afterwards.

Black claimed preparation time was for teachers to use as for their own professional needs as they saw fit. It was part of their negotiated benefits and belonged to them. The school board argued preparation time was “paid company time” and if a teacher was required for a meeting, it should be allowed to schedule it during preparation time.

The arbitrator found past practice did not treat it as company time. It found teachers were entitled to use the time as they chose, and although sometimes they would accept using it for “some professional purpose required by the principal,” they weren’t required to do so every time. Collective bargaining agreements had also determined the time was to be used at the teacher’s discretion.

The arbitrator concluded Black was entitled to refuse to hold the meeting during her preparation time. Though she had initially agreed to do so, she later expressed her desire to change it, which was a withdrawal of consent.

“The board ought to have respected (Black’s) decision not to hold the meeting during her preparation time, either by postponing the meeting or by compensating her for using her preparation time against her will,” the arbitrator said. See Ottawa-Carleton District School Board v. E.T.F.O., 2008 CarswellOnt 505 (Ont. Arb. Bd.).

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