Nova Scotia

Education students being 'thrown under the bus,' judge tells teachers union

Education students on the cusp of graduating are being "thrown under the bus" by a work-to-rule campaign being waged by Nova Scotia's public school teachers, a judge said Friday.

5 N.S. universities in court battling NSTU over refusal to allow student teachers in the classroom

Five Nova Scotia universities are taking legal action against the NSTU over work-to-rule job action. (Getty Images)

Education students on the cusp of graduating are being "thrown under the bus" by a work-to-rule campaign being waged by Nova Scotia's public school teachers, a judge said Friday.

Nova Scotia Supreme Court Justice Jamie Campbell made the comments in a Halifax courtroom as he listened to arguments from five universities that say the Nova Scotia Teachers Union should be ordered to accept student teachers in the classroom.

In order to graduate with a bachelor of education in Nova Scotia, student teachers must complete a minimum of 15 weeks of practicum.

But the union that represents the province's 9,300 public school teachers is refusing to allow those education students in classrooms as part of a work-to-rule campaign that began in December.

300 would-be grads at risk

In his comments to union lawyer Ronald Pink, Campbell was forthright about the impact work-to-rule has had on education students.

"They're the only ones being seriously compromised by this," he said.

On Thursday, nearly 80 per cent of Nova Scotia teachers voted to reject a tentative contract between their union and the provincial government, the third time in a little more than a year that members have vetoed a deal. 

Acadia University, Cape Breton University, Mount Saint Vincent University, St. Francis Xavier University and Université Sainte-Anne filed papers Jan. 30 in Nova Scotia Supreme Court seeking an injunction against the union.

All five universities have education faculties and say at least 300 students are in danger of not graduating because of work-to-rule.

Education Act violation?

The Association of Atlantic Universities said the legal action alleges the teachers union is in violation of the Education Act by not accepting or supervising student teachers. Section 31 of the act requires teachers to admit student teachers into their classrooms, as well as supervise and "give them any assistance requested by the instructors."

Union president Liette Doucet has denied the union is violating the Education Act.

"We are in a legal strike position, which gives us the right to do that," Doucet told reporters on Jan. 30.

Pink argued Friday that work-to-rule is meant to put pressure on the employer to settle. He acknowledged "a whole lot of people are suffering" but that's to be expected in a dispute such as this.

'Does this really seem fair?'

Campbell seemed to take issue with Pink's comments.

"I guess I don't get to be the judge of whether things are moral or not, but does this really seem fair?" he asked the lawyer.

Before the court can decide whether to grant the universities' request to impose an injunction on the union, the judge must first decide whether the universities should have standing in the case.

The union argued they should not, because this is a labour dispute involving the union, school boards and the province.

Teaching careers 'in limbo'

Two education students were in court to observe the legal arguments.

"I just would like to get back with my students and to get my career on the go," student Lynann Rhodenizer said outside the courtroom.

"Right now, my career is in limbo." 

Alex Pipes, a student at Mount Saint Vincent, said it's becoming too difficult to stay objective.

"This is our future," Pipes told reporters. "This is our career and all we want to do is teach."

Lawyers have promised to file written briefs next week, but it's not clear where the case will go after that.

The CBC's Blair Rhodes liveblogged from the court hearing.

Comments

To encourage thoughtful and respectful conversations, first and last names will appear with each submission to CBC/Radio-Canada's online communities (except in children and youth-oriented communities). Pseudonyms will no longer be permitted.

By submitting a comment, you accept that CBC has the right to reproduce and publish that comment in whole or in part, in any manner CBC chooses. Please note that CBC does not endorse the opinions expressed in comments. Comments on this story are moderated according to our Submission Guidelines. Comments are welcome while open. We reserve the right to close comments at any time.