Taxpayers' dollars helped send teachers to Hawaii during work-to-rule

Education Minister Karen Casey is questioning the priorities of Nova Scotia teachers after educators travelled to Hawaii on their own time to attend a conference paid for, in part, by taxpayers in the middle of a contract dispute.

Despite N.S. dispute, teachers have attended conferences in Honolulu, Orlando and Vancouver

The website for the Hilton Hawaiian Village Waikiki Beach Resort boasts a lagoon, a beach, a 'paradise pool' and the 'longest slide in Waikiki.' (Hilton Hawaiian Village)

Education Minister Karen Casey is questioning the priorities of Nova Scotia teachers after educators travelled to Hawaii on their own time during a contract dispute to attend a conference paid for, in part, by taxpayers.

A total of 11 teachers, including seven from the Chignecto-Central Regional School Board, attended the 16th annual Hawaii International Conference on Education at the Hilton Hawaiian Village Waikiki Beach Resort in Honolulu. The conference took place Jan. 4 to 7.

The Nova Scotia Teachers Union gave the OK for its members to attend more than a dozen conferences in destinations outside Nova Scotia or Canada in December, January and February, despite a work-to-rule edict that prevents them from doing anything over and above classroom work.

The travel was approved prior to the start of the work-to-rule period on Dec. 5.

Casey said she's troubled by what appears to be a double standard.

"I don't know how the union can defend that," she said.

"How can you defend supporting and promoting and protecting activities for teachers and not for students?"

Florida, Hawaii, Finland on list

The work-to-rule job action means teachers arrive 20 minutes before class starts and leave 20 minutes after the final bell.

The teachers are required to do their jobs exactly as outlined by the contract, meaning they no longer organize after-school events such as plays, concerts or sports. The union has also advised teachers not to write reference letters for graduating students applying for post-secondary scholarships.

There are no plays, concerts or sports activities for students under work-to-rule. (Oksana Kuzmina/Shutterstock)

Information provided by the province's eight school boards shows 163 teachers have been approved to travel to conferences over a three-month period. Within the Halifax Regional School Board alone, 95 teachers have approval for conference travel.

Destinations include San Diego, New York City, Texas, Toronto, Vancouver, Quebec City, Florida and Hawaii. Finland is also on the list of travel spots.

Two sets of rules

Each school board has a committee made up of equal representation from the union and the board that approves travel to conferences. Each board has a different limit on how much teachers are reimbursed for their conference expenses, ranging from $1,200 to $2,500 every two years.

According to a teachers' union directive, training within the province is limited to learning first aid, dealing with hazardous material or for occupational health and safety courses during professional development days.

There are no such restrictions when it comes to attending conferences out of province.

Education Minister Karen Casey says she has a hard time reconciling teachers' getaways while extracurricular activities for students are cancelled. (CBC)

Casey suggested teachers who had booked their travel and could be out of pocket by cancelling their trips were putting their interests ahead of the needs of students.

"Teachers have a right to professional development, but if you're saying after a certain cut-off date no more activities for kids because of the work-to-rule, but they are allowing their own profession to participate in activities after Dec. 5, that would be considered voluntary. So to me, there's two sets of rules here," she said. 

"There's one for parents and kids, and there's one for teachers."

The Nova Scotia Teachers Union said president Liette Doucette was unavailable for comment because she was involved in negotiations with the province.

Those talks wrap up Thursday, unless the parties agree to new dates.

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