Nova Scotia is closing all public schools to students as of Monday, and there is no date for when they will reopen.
Education Minister Karen Casey announced the decision at a press conference on Saturday morning. She says the government couldn’t ensure the safety of students while teachers planned work-to-rule job action.
“We recognize that this will be an inconvenience in the short term,” Casey said when asked what her message to parents was. “But we believe that the responsibility to ensure that their students are safe is a priority, and we will err on the side of that.”
Casey said the government is not locking out teachers. Teachers will still be expected to show up to work on Monday.
Teachers were planning to start working-to-rule on Monday. The job action is legal under the teacher’s collective bargaining act, but Casey said the government believed the union’s directives to teachers went too far.
Nova Scotia Teachers Union President Liette Doucet said the government’s decision is “heavy handed.”
“There was no point in time during the day that students would not be safe,” she said. The union’s directives to teachers during the planned work-to-rule was to ensure students were safe and to keep classrooms open for teaching.
According to a government briefing note, several school boards asked the government to consider closing the schools because of safety risks with work-to-rule. In particular, the document says boards were concerned that principals or teachers wouldn’t supervise over the lunch hour or beyond the 20 minute buffer zone required by the contract for supervision before and after school hours.
“School boards felt it was unsafe for schools to be open,” Casey said.
The government is also recalling the legislature in order to impose a contract on the teachers.
Schools will reopen to students once the contract is proclaimed. Once the new contract is imposed, the government says teachers will no longer be in a legal strike position and will not be allowed to work-to-rule.
Premier resorting to ‘bullying teachers’: Jamie Baillie
By closing schools to students Progressive Conservative Leader Jamie Baillie says Premier Stephen McNeil has “resorted to bullying teachers to get his way.”
“This is condemning students to time without classrooms, it’s condemning taxpayers to years — and millions of dollars — in litigation and no classroom condition is going to be improved,” Baillie said.
NDP Leader Gary Burrill said Casey’s announcement is “tremendously insulting” to teachers.
“The teachers of Nova Scotia do not need a lecture from Karen Casey on how to honour the safety of students,” Burrill said.
Both opposition parties say they will try to block the legislation with procedural tactics. But the Liberals have a majority in the house so barring Liberal MLAs voting against the government, the legislation will pass.