Nova Scotia schools to reopen Tuesday after one-day shutdown
Liberal government won't say if it will table legislation at a later date
Education Minister Karen Casey says Nova Scotia public schools will reopen Tuesday following a one-day shutdown amid a contract dispute with the province's teachers.
"Schools will be notifying parents through their normal procedures that schools will open tomorrow morning," Casey said Monday.
Casey spoke at a mid-afternoon news conference Monday following a last-minute cancellation of a bill briefing on legislation that would impose a contract on teachers.
As a result of a teachers' work-to-rule plan, which was set to start Monday, the province closed the schools for the day, claiming student safety would be at risk.
Union maintained students would be safe
Although union president Liette Doucet has maintained student safety wouldn't be in jeopardy — and teachers and principals were already told to put safety ahead of any work-to-rule protocol — Casey said she only received satisfactory confirmation on Monday morning.
However the union said it gave notice to the province on Friday it would address student safety concerns and told teachers that safety trumps work-to-rule protocol.
Casey singled out some of the safety concerns the province felt had been addressed on Monday:
- Permitting teachers to be on-call in case of an emergency during lunch break.
- Confirming principals are not restricted to 20 minutes before and after school with respect to their overall safety duties.
- Principals will be available by cellphone outside the 20-minute window before and after school.
The union maintained the safety concerns had already been addressed last week, before the province announced Saturday it would close the schools.
"There was no question about student safety, there were no directives changed today," Doucet said. "There was no reason to keep students out of class today."
A return to negotiation?
Talks for a new contract for the province's 9,300 elementary and secondary school teachers broke off Nov. 25. The union has questioned the province's commitment to dealing with teachers' workplace concerns, such as teachers' administrative workload. The province says a number of those workplace issues don't belong in negotiations or are simply too expensive to happen all at once.
The teachers have been without a contract for nearly 18 months.
On Monday, Doucet called for the province to return to contract negotiations with the teachers
"What we need from the government is a commitment that they will negotiate with us. Up until this point, they have not done that," she said.
While the bill briefing was cancelled Monday, Casey would not say if legislation would come on a later day, saying it serves as protection for the education system in the event strike action went beyond the Education Act.
Doucet said her union's members were upset that a contract they had voted to reject in October was going to be imposed on them, and are pleased the bill was not read Monday.
'Safety pretext wasn't true'
The minister said she believes her government has handled the education file well, referencing almost $65 million that the Liberals have put into classrooms since forming the government in 2013.
The leader of the province's Official Opposition disagreed.
"The government really decided to play politics with students and classrooms," Progressive Conservative Leader Jamie Baillie said. "It became obvious that this safety pretext wasn't true."