Nova Scotia is beefing up safety reporting protocols for teachers and others employed by the education system, including mandatory criminal record checks every five years.
The proposed Education Act amendments are in direct response to a series of assault and sexual assault charges against educators in the province, Education Minister Zach Churchill said.
“One is too many in my opinion. The fact that we’ve had five charges already this year demonstrates that we just have to do a better job when it comes to screening,” he said Wednesday.
Churchill said the charges ranged from assault and sexual assault to child luring and possession of child pornography.
The changes would also require people to declare annually they have not been convicted of an offence.
Churchill said the moves were in no way meant to reflect badly on the vast majority of educators who are a positive influence in the lives of students.
“This is also about ensuring that the integrity and reputation of that distinguished profession (teaching) is protected as well,” he said.
The legislation is similar to reporting regimes already in place in provinces such as Ontario and British Columbia.
Churchill said the initial background checks, as happens now, will be paid for by employees, with subsequent checks paid for by the province at a cost of $225,000 per year.
The legislation will also allow for regulations to set out record check requirements for volunteers.
“This is not a foolproof tool, but this does give us a new tool to better screen and gather information on the folks that are in front of our kids to help us better identify if there are potentially any risks,” said Churchill.
WATCH: Nova Scotia says province’s teachers to undergo mandatory criminal record check every 5 years
The minister said the affected unions including the Nova Scotia Teachers Union (NSTU) have been involved in conversations around the drafting of the legislation.
NSTU president Paul Wozney said the changes aren’t surprising and align with measures the union and department have been discussing for several months.
“They are all things we agreed to work on with the government,” said Wozney.
“Ultimately the important work was taking steps to build confidence in public education so that parents and students have assurances that the adults that work with them every day are good people who are properly screened.”
Regulations have not been finalized, including around a measure to provide possible exemptions to the background checks.
The Education Department said such exemptions would relate to employees who don’t have regular contact with children such as a clerk working in a local education office.
The department is still determining which employees will be included.