Nova Scotia

Parents scramble for childcare as Nova Scotia closes schools in teachers contract dispute

Parents have less than 48 hours to make childcare plans before the Nova Scotia government closes all public schools starting Monday to avoid union job action it says would make students unsafe.

'I feel that their hope from this is to upset us against the teachers,' parent says

Jennifer Chapman, a parent of two elementary school students, said she is going to have to use vacation time while students are locked out of school. (CBC)

Parents have less than 48 hours to make childcare plans before the Nova Scotia government closes all public schools to avoid union job action it says would make students unsafe.

The Nova Scotia Teachers Union promised to begin work-to-rule in protest of failed contract negotiations. Instead, the Liberal government will try to force a contract on the union. Before doing so, the province announced Saturday it would close schools.

"I was extremely upset and bothered that the government would choose to do this on a Saturday," said Krista Dicks, a Dartmouth parent with two children in school, one in elementary and one in junior high. 

"I feel that their hope from this is to upset us against the teachers."

Expected to report to work

Education Minister Karen Casey said teachers still are expected to be at school Monday.

The Nova Scotia House of Assembly will reconvene so the Liberal government can introduce legislation that would impose a contract. Casey said that would get students back in the classroom. 

The Nova Scotia Teachers Union has directed educators only go to school 20 minutes before class and leave 20 minutes after class, and not volunteer to supervise breaks. Contract negotiations broke down Nov. 25. 

'In a bind'

Dicks said the decision to close schools puts pressures on her childcare provider. 

"They're in a bind now having to get more staff to come in to provide adequate care for Monday," the parent said. 

Her eldest son is old enough to stay at home alone but her youngest daughter needs care. As a parent of a child with special needs, Dicks said teachers should get extra support.

Krista Dicks's daughter Peyton with a message for the education minister. (Krista Dicks)

"I see the added work the teachers have to put into educating her and I'm so appreciative of that," she said.

"But I also see that it could be a struggle for the teachers ... in my opinion, if they're looking for extra help in the classroom, give it to them." 

Thousands of students at several high schools across the province walked out of class Friday in support of their teachers who are in a contract dispute with the province.

Dicks also said her son has suffered already. He's on a volleyball team that made finals and regionals. Those tournaments and other sports have been cancelled.

"This has affected us so greatly," Dicks said. "They need that teaching time. Teachers need to be in the classroom doing their jobs."

Using up vacation days

Jennifer Chapman, a mother with a child in Grade Primary and Grade 2, said she is going to have to use up some of her vacation days at work while school is closed.

"I was hoping to use them for something else but we'll see how long this lasts," said Chapman.

"I really would rather spend my time on things that I enjoy as opposed to being forced to spend it trying to look after my kids when they should be in school."

She thinks the teachers' demands are "pretty reasonable."

"I'm really quite frustrated about Stephen McNeil and how he's trying to strong-arm the teachers union. I'm really disappointed in our leadership right now."

'They do not care about children'

Mona MacNeil, a teacher at Madeline Symonds Middle School in Hammonds Plains, N.S., said the education minister is being inconsiderate toward parents. She was outside the legislature Saturday morning when Casey announced the plan for closures. 

​"The government is giving [parents] less than 48 hours on a weekend," MacNeil said. "They do not care about children. They do not care about the students of Nova Scotia."

MacNeil said she was insulted by the minister's comments about teachers putting kids' safety at risk. She said she once waited with a student after a track meet for more than three hours waiting for a parent.

"I had familial duties but I stayed with that student because I had to and I wanted to and I care about the safety of students," MacNeil said.

With files from Stephanie vanKampen, Melissa Friedman and Elizabeth Chiu

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