Nova Scotia

Future school psychologists, speech-language pathologists won't be part of teachers union

New speech-language pathologists and school psychologists hired in Nova Scotia will not be members of the Nova Scotia Teachers Union.

Deputy says change gives more flexibility to provide services outside school year

The Education Department has placed a freeze on issuing special certificates for speech-language pathologists and school psychologists while it reviews hiring practices. (Robert Short/CBC)

New speech-language pathologists and school psychologists hired in Nova Scotia will not be members of the Nova Scotia Teachers Union.

In the past, any non-teacher hired for one of those jobs was required to have a special teacher's certificate, which allowed them to work in schools with students. Among other things, it made the person a member of the teachers union.

But a freeze has been placed on issuing the certificates.

Deputy Education Minister Cathy Montreuil said removing the requirement for non-teachers to get the certification takes away a step in the hiring process that's "unnecessary" while creating more flexibility for people working those jobs. 

Deputy Minister of Education Cathy Montreuil says requiring non-teachers to get special teacher's certificates is an unnecessary and added step in the hiring process. (David Laughlin/CBC)

Montreuil said the move isn't about keeping people out of the union, but rather reflecting the needs of kids and having the flexibility to meet those needs. Having specialists classified as teachers meant they didn't work through the summer, for example, or outside the traditional teaching day, she said.

"We know that we've got counselling gaps and assessment gaps and wraparound services required by kids," the deputy said. "Their issues and their struggles don't go away over the summer."

While this will be the reality for new hires — the province plans to fill six new positions in time for the start of the next school year — Montreuil said the work approach will not change for existing employees.

"I'm not interested in taking away or changing the work conditions or the environment for people who have been doing a great job for us over time."

She said she isn't concerned about people doing the same job under different circumstances because in each case they'll be doing what they applied for.

The teachers union president, meanwhile, said she doesn't want to see any delays in getting those jobs filled.

NSTU president Liette Doucet says a freeze on certificates for school psychologists and speech-language pathologists is counterproductive when those roles are in high demand right now. (Steve Berry/CBC)

Liette Doucet said gaps and demands in the system are well demonstrated and any delays would run contrary to the recommendations laid out in the recent report on inclusive education.

"Our students need these supports," she said.

"The caseloads of the specialists who are in the school now are far too high. They can't meet the demand. They can't ensure that students are receiving the assistance that they need."

Violating the professional agreement

The union has previously expressed concerns about the new jobs not being part of the union. A memo to members on May 28 noted changing the designation unilaterally would violate the Teachers' Professional Agreement and prompt a grievance.

Doucet said she received no communication from the department about the change. She questioned the government's motives.

"If they're saying they want these specialists to work in the summer, work different hours — we have summer school right now. So it's not something they couldn't arrange.… We could have worked it out. They chose not to speak to us about it."

In response to those concerns, Montreuil said she's hoping "we're reaching a place where we can continue to talk about what's best for kids, what's best for their families."

"Everybody has said that this is what we're all in this game for."

Jobs to be posted by next week

Postings for the new jobs will be out by next week and people will be hired through the Health Department and then assigned to regional centres for education.

While some people within the union have expressed concerns about this approach separating new hires from the education system, department officials say a co-ordinated approach among multiple government departments will prevent that from happening.

About the Author

Michael Gorman is a reporter in Nova Scotia whose coverage areas include Province House, rural communities, and health care. Contact him with story ideas at michael.gorman@cbc.ca

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