Nova Scotia

Nova Scotia teachers, province dig in heels as students kept out of class

A contract dispute between the Nova Scotia Department of Education and the teachers union is keeping students out of school today, leaving parents scrambling for child care.

'We need changes in the classroom, we need changes in many areas,' says union president

Parents & students cheer on teachers as they arrive at school Monday morning

6 years ago
Duration 0:41
Parents & students were out at many schools across Nova Scotia on Monday to support teachers who are in contract dispute with the provincial government.

There's a bit of chaos in Nova Scotia today — schools are closed and parents are scrambling to find child care as the dispute between the provincial teachers union and the government spills over into the everyday lives of residents.

One place where it is calm is in the classrooms, where the province's 9,300 teachers are sitting alone today. 

The bill was set to be introduced in the Nova Scotia legislature Monday morning, but was delayed after Liberal House Leader Michel Samson told reporters there were talks underway to find another solution other than legislation.

Samson said representatives for the government and union were talking about the safety concerns related to work-to-rule and they would revisit whether or not to table the bill following those talks. The legislature is set to reconvene Monday afternoon. 

The province has been tight-lipped about exactly how schools will operate while closed to students. Simple questions such as whether students can access their belongings in schools haven't been answered by the province. 

Talks broke off

Teachers had overwhelmingly voted against the province's offers and decided they would start a work-to-rule action today after talks broke off Nov. 25.

Teachers have said they want improved working conditions, but the province has said the union's demands are too expensive.

Education Minister Karen Casey doesn't believe it will take a week to get students back in the classroom. (CBC)

In the simplest terms, work-to-rule means teachers will show up 20 minutes before the start of each school day, only do tasks related to classroom learning and leave 20 minutes after each day ends.

The arrival and departure edict also applies to teachers with administrative duties. Such a move means no more coaching, school trips or any extracurricular activities involving teachers.

Government says student safety at risk

Casey said supervising students for 20 minutes is not sufficient to keep students safely supervised, disagreeing with the NSTU's position on the issue. Casey said that small supervision window would make the 400 schools unsafe. To protect students, the government decided to shut down the schools. 

"If the union is prepared to withdraw those directives that impact the safety of students in their schools, then we would welcome that," said Casey. "We want our students back in classrooms as quickly as possible."

NSTU president Liette Doucet said children would be safe in school, and teachers arriving 20 minutes before class and staying 20 minutes after would be enough time to safely supervise students.

Nova Scotia Teachers Union president Liette Doucet says it will continue its work to rule action. (CBC)

At lunch, teachers would perform emergency on-call duty to ensure proper supervision of students. 

"We are still in a legal strike position; we will still be expecting our teachers to follow our work to rule directives," said Doucet.

What teachers want

Teachers say the main sticking point is increased workload and working conditions in classrooms. Teachers also want wages increased to reflect the higher cost of living.

"You look at the educational reform, that requires money too. The government wasn't willing to put money into that. We need changes, we need changes in the classroom, we need changes in many areas and the government wasn't willing to put any money into those issues," said Doucet.

Casey said the province recognizes the problems teachers have in the classroom, and it's willing to work with them on solutions. Still, both sides haven't been able to agree on a new contract, and the province will be in the Nova Scotia Legislature on Monday to work on forcing a contract on teachers.

Despite that, Doucet said they will still work to make changes to the province's education system. 

"We still have to try to ensure that changes are made because right now, our students aren't getting the best education possible. We do need to sit down either way. We need to sit down with government. The government needs to listen to us."

Improvised child care 

Parents were forced to be creative with their child-care plans after the province announced that all schools would be closed Monday. 

Becka Barker in Halifax had to rearrange her day to secure care for her five-year-old son. 

"I'm going to be with him for some of the day. I had to juggle a couple of meetings and I have a very awesome, very kind neighbour who is going to be able to look after him for a few hours, while I do have to go to work."   

Other parents had it a little easier.

Jody MacArthur of Enfield, N.S., works from home, and has two children — in Grade 5 and 8. She said looking after them for a few days should be no problem, but any longer than that may hurt her ability to get work done.

MacArthur said she also has had to spend time explaining to her children why they're not allowed in school.

"All of a sudden kids are not allowed in their school, so for them, it's kind of, 'We've never been here before. What's going to happen?'

"Mostly it's sort of fear of the unknown. They don't know when they'll be back in the classroom, they don't know when sort of normal school life will resume,"said MacArthur.

CBC reporters are live blogging the current developments with the legislation. 

With files from Information Morning