New Brunswick education bill passes with Higgs majority despite pushback

Cardy said the government is fulfilling a long-awaited commitment to students and families with learning difficulties with Bill 53. Silas Brown / Global New Brunswick

The New Brunswick Progressive Conservatives used its majority power to push forward a controversial education bill that the opposition parties are calling “dangerous.”

Bill 35, or An Act Respecting Empowering the School System, proposes several changes to the Education Act that would lead to greater transparency around teacher discipline and require public schools to teach Indigenous languages alongside history and culture.

Read more: New Brunswick opposition parties say they hope to salvage Bill 35

In particular, section 11 allows teachers to perform and interpret Wechsler Intelligence Scale for Children tests (WISC), which has drawn concern from stakeholders and opposition lawmakers. WISC tests are normally conducted by psychologists.

Education Minister Dominic Cardy stood by the decision to pass the bill. He said the government is delivering on a long-awaited promise to families of children with learning difficulties.

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“It time we lived up to this province’s commitment to those kids and their families to offer them a world-class education system, which has to mean timely and appropriate intervention to help those students get back on track with their learning,” Cardy said, speaking to reporters on Thursday.

Read more: New Brunswick college of psychologists ‘blindsided’ over possibility of teachers performing psychoeducational assessments

Cardy did say he would revisit sections of the bill if issues were brought forward down the road.

However, that isn’t sitting well with the opposition parties.

Green Party leader David Coon said the decision to ignore subject-matter experts is dangerous.

“So, I learned a lot, and my sense of the motivation of everyone who contacted me was very much rooted in concern over what this could mean for students and they felt … this is quite a dangerous approach,” Coon said.

The Liberals agreed.

Read more: Psychologist shortage in N.B. school system draws concern as classes set to begin

Benoit Bourque, a Liberal MLA said, he worries about the precedent the government is setting by ignoring subject matter experts on such critical issues.

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“It comes down to a bill where the government is not taking into account the true experts on the subject matter of psycho-educational assessments, who are the psychologist, and by doing that, I think they are going down a dangerous path,” he said on Thursday.

He said he feels the party did a good job raising awareness on the bill and its issues but said the Higgs government is on notice.

Bill 35 gets royal assent on June 11.

— With files from Silas Brown. 

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