Parents divided over Glaze report but urge teachers union not to strike

As the Nova Scotia government and teachers union wage war over sweeping changes to the education system, some parents are calling on both sides to take a deep breath and work together.

Nova Scotia Teachers Union has called a vote on a strike mandate in response to controversial education report

Donna Gallant has two kids in school and says the current system has failed them both. (Marina von Stackelberg/CBC)

As the Nova Scotia government and teachers union dig in their heels over sweeping changes to the education system, some parents are calling on both sides to take a deep breath and work together. 

The Nova Scotia Teachers Union announced Tuesday it will hold a strike mandate vote on Feb. 20 in an effort to stop the province from implementing recommendations in the recently released Avis Glaze report.

If teachers vote in favour of a strike mandate, it would clear the way for the union to start job action. The union isn't in a position to strike legally as its contract doesn't expire until 2019, and it faces steep fines if it does.

"I think the education system is in place to educate children, not provide a platform for the teachers' contracts," said Donna Gallant, chair of the school advisory council at Ellenvale Junior High School in Dartmouth. "I think that we all need to work together to find solutions, and I think that walking away from our kids is not a good solution."

NSTU president Liette Doucet points to the removal of principals and vice-principals from the union, and the creation of a teachers' assessment office as proof that the changes will hurt students, not help them.

Mixed reactions from parents

Gallant agrees the current system isn't working, but said many parents are divided over the best way forward.

"I think that bureaucracy for the sake of bureaucracy is not a solution, so I think that we need to be brave and head out there and figure out what the best steps forward are," she said.

Still, she has questions about some of the recommendations, including about the role of school advisory councils, which will have more power when the seven English school boards are dissolved

Jill Brogan, whose twins are in Grade 12 at Dartmouth High School, said it's the right move to take principals and vice-principals out of the union, but she still has concerns. 

Jill Brogan is chair of Dartmouth High School's School Advisory Council. (Marina von Stackelberg/CBC)

"I do hope that they take the time to make sure that if they're going to draft new legislation that they do it properly, that they make sure that it doesn't have any holes in it or unforeseen gaps," said Brogan, who chairs the school advisory council.

Vanessa Childs Rolls is worried about that, too, especially since she finds Glaze's evidence "extremely anecdotal" and "not really quantitative in any way, shape or form."

The evidence that she uses is extremely anecdotal, and it's not really quantitative in any way, shape or form.- Vanessa  Childs  Rolls, parent

Her 12-year-old son attends Sherwood Park Education Centre in Sydney, where she's chair of the school advisory council.

"I don't think getting rid of the school boards is the way to address the problems with the school boards. And I don't think you can take issues from three school boards and then broadly apply it to all of the school boards," said Childs Rolls.

She's one of the SAC chairs who have been invited to meet with Education Minister Zach Churchill Thursday night.

What job action is possible?

The NSTU even considering a strike "is like squashing a bug with a sledge hammer," said parent Carey Rolfe.

"I think what they need to do is sit down and get into discussions and work it out around the table as opposed to going to job action," he said.  

Carey Rolfe has a daughter in Grade 8 and one in university. (Steve Lawrence/CBC)

But despite the vote on Tuesday, Doucet said job action is still very much an unknown.

"At this point we don't know what that will look like, and again, we don't even know if there will be job action," Doucet said. "What we're hoping is that Stephen McNeil will realize that implementing the Glaze report is going to hurt public education, and that, you know, he presses the pause button."

Nova Scotia's Teachers' Collective Bargaining Act states the penalty for breaking the act is up to $10,000 for a union. If a union goes on strike, it also faces up to $300 in fines each day of the strike. 

"We haven't spoken to [teachers] yet directly about those specific items," said Doucet. "We will be doing that.… Teachers know there will be penalties."

NSTU president Liette Doucet announced members will have a strike vote on Tuesday. (Brian MacKay/CBC)

Doucet reiterated that removing principals and vice-principals from the union will hurt the culture of schools.

She also took aim at a recommendation to create an office that would assess teachers, saying it could lead to more standardized testing for students.

"We're not saying that changes aren't necessary. We're saying that changes are necessary but these aren't the changes that are going to assist students," she said.

With files from Marina von Stackelberg and Holly Connors