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Schools fight 'like a divorce' – CCRSB board member

Nova Scotia Teachers Union president Liette Douce, surrounded by members of the union's executive, speaks at a press conference in Halifax Feb. 21.
Nova Scotia Teachers Union president Liette Douce, surrounded by members of the union's executive, speaks at a press conference in Halifax Feb. 21. - The Chronicle Herald

Teachers are calling on the government to hit the brakes on wide-ranging education reforms after educators voted overwhelmingly in favour of illegal strike action.

The Nova Scotia Teachers Union says that 93 per cent of its total membership voted, of whom 82.5 per cent chose to strike, meaning that teachers could face financial penalties if any labour action goes ahead.

“They’re willing to accept hardship,” warned NSTU president Liette Doucet.

The fight between teachers and the government started last month when the latter decided to adopt the recommendations of educational consultant Dr. Avis Glaze. proposed reforms included scrapping elected regional boards and moving principals and vice-principals out of the union.

However, teachers have not yet committed to strike action despite their strong mandate, saying they wanted to give negotiations with Minister of Education Zach Churchill and Premier Stephen McNeil more time.

“We’re asking them to put a stop to what they’re planning and to come and discuss these recommendations with us,” said Doucet.

If talks between teachers and the government break down, the NSTU can choose between a number of actions, including a full-scale or rotating strike.

Doucet also assured parents that they will receive prior notice if any labour disruption is imminent, so they can make other arrangements for their children.

As the battle over education reforms heats up, local board members are saying that students are not being heard while the adults in government and the NSTU fight it out.

According to Marilyn Murray, who sits on the Chignecto-Central Regional School Board, students will have even less of a voice if boards are scrapped in favour of a central advisory council in Halifax.

“To me, all of this is like a divorce,” said Murray.

She also took issue with the government’s claim that school boards are fractured, saying that the only rift was with the ruling Liberals, who did not listen to their concerns.

The report’s proposed central advisory council would only widen such a rift between communities and the province over education, according to Murray.

“We really know our community,” said Murray.

Her fellow board member Ron Marks said that teachers were already stressed as they were faced with teaching children of widely differing abilities in the same classroom.

Learning and teaching conditions in classrooms was a key issue during a previous labour dispute between the NSTU and government in late 2016.

Then, teachers launched work-to-rule action after contract talks broke down, a situation that lasted into early 2017 when the province legislated them back to work.

“My thoughts are simple,” said Marks. “The teachers are doing an extremely good job in a difficult situation.”

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