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Teacher wins grievance over switch to another town

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A Minnedosa teacher has won her grievance over a forced transfer to another town after she began a romantic relationship with the principal of her school.

Arbitrator Arne Peltz has ruled in favour of the teacher, who was to be transferred this month against her will from Tanner's Crossing School in Minnedosa to Elton Collegiate, 42 kilometres away, after beginning a romantic relationship with the school's principal.

Instead, the teacher and principal both remain at the Minnedosa school this year.

Rolling River School Division superintendent Ray Klassen had ordered the transfer to take effect this September, after learning late in the 2008-2009 school year that the two had begun a relationship.

Peltz made his decision late this summer, and his report is now published on the Manitoba School Boards Association website.

There was testimony that the two had known each other for years, but had only become romantically involved recently after both had separated from their spouses.

Klassen told an arbitration hearing this summer that the teacher should not be on the faculty of the same school as the principal, in a subordinate/supervisor situation. The principal would evaluate her job performance and deal with any issues involving the teacher, Klassen told the hearing.

Meantime, an Elton Collegiate teacher was to be involuntarily transferred to Minnedosa to replace the teacher, although the Elton teacher did not grieve the move.

The Manitoba Teachers' Society argued that Rolling River was transferring the teacher because of "intolerant community reaction", without any consideration for the teachers and their places of residence, and without consultation. MTS said that the vice-principal could handle any issues involving the teacher, and said Rolling River should have waited a school year to see if there were any problems.

"Anti-nepotism has to be balanced against an individual's human rights," MTS lawyer Garth Smorang said Tuesday. "Is there a potential for a problem? No one said there isn't."

Smorang said the arbitration decision means employers have to deal only with real problems if and when they actually occur, not hypothetical potential ones, and meanwhile must seek accommodations such as having the vice-principal handle any situations involving the teacher.

Smorang pointed out that in rural communities with one school, there are couples who both teach, teachers with their own children in a school and teachers with relationships throughout a small community. What potential problems are there for a teacher when the principal's child is in her classroom, Smorang said.

The division will accept the decision, and everyone involved stays put this school year. "We will not appeal -- the school year has started," Klassen said Tuesday from Minnedosa. "We made a transfer. We felt we went through an honourable, above-board process."

Klassen said he was disappointed that the hearing spent so much time discussing "coffee shop talk" in the community.

"It's just difficult on a day-to-day basis" to have a supervisor and subordinate who have a relationship, he said. "It makes it a little difficult for people to go to the principal" over a disagreement or difference of opinion in the handling of a student, Klassen said.

nick.martin@freepress.mb.ca

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition September 30, 2009 A6

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