Five Nova Scotia universities launch legal action against NSTU


Published on January 30, 2017

Five universities across Nova Scotia launched legal action against the Nova Scotia’s Teachers Union in the Supreme Court of Nova Scotia Monday because the union has indicated that during work-to-rule, teachers will not supervise practicums of university students who need to the training as part of their degree.

The universities that took part in the action are: Acadia, Cape Breton, Mount Saint Vincent, St. Francis Xavier and Sainte-Anne, according to a release issued on Monday.

The five universities are asking the court to declare that the NSTU’s Dec. 5, 2016, work-to-rule job action and its directive that “Teachers will not accept or supervise student teachers, fill out assessments from external agencies unless required by law...” violates Section 31 of the Education Act.

Section 31 requires teachers to admit student teachers to school classrooms, and supervise and evaluate their required teacher practicum.

A separate motion was filed seeking an emergency injunction to alleviate irreparable harm to student teachers caused by the work-to-rule job action, so they can commence their teacher practicum as soon as possible, and, “to address the irreparable harm being done to the reputation of the affected universities and their respective education programs,” the release states.

Nearly 600 education students across the five universities are directly affected by the NSTU’s directive.

“The urgency of this situation required the matter be placed before the Supreme Court as the best way to stand up for students and protect their interests,” said Dr. Kent MacDonald, president and vice-chancellor, St. Francis Xavier University, speaking on behalf of the affected universities, said in the release. “If the job action continues, nearly 300 of our students will not graduate on time, causing harm and risk to their future careers.”

MacDonald said he and his colleagues are concerned about the long-term impacts on students and universities.

”We have asked the court for an early hearing date and hope that an emergency injunction will be granted so that education students may begin their teacher practicum without further delay. The interests of our students must be recognized and acted upon.”

According to the release the five affected universities reached out to the Nova Scotia government and the NSTU during the month of December seeking a remedy and corresponded with NSTU officials on Dec. 22, Jan. 9 and Jan. 13 seeking either an immediate face-to-face meeting or teleconference call with university presidents to resolve this situation.

“The NSTU did not respond favourably to this reasonable request,” the release states.

In a release, NSTU President Liette Doucet said that they understand the difficult situation student teachers are in, but placed the blame fully on Premier Stephen McNeil.

“NSTU public school members are taking this stand to prevent the continued deterioration of learning conditions in our schools,” she wrote. “The government needs to be willing to make long overdue investments. This will also improve workplace conditions for those in the profession today, and those entering in the future.”

She said the erosion of teachers’ collective rights, and the reduced ability to negotiate fair contracts, will discourage many from pursuing a teaching career in Nova Scotia.

“We are currently monitoring and reviewing our directives. We want to make sure the futures of our student teachers are not adversely impacted if this situation is not resolved.”

Kara Powers, a fourth year student at St. FX and Pictou County native, had her practicum cut short in the December when work-to-rule started. She said she and her classmates are feeling a bit unsure and uneasy as they wait to see what happens.

“Obviously we’d love to be in the schools and in the classrooms and to get our licence,” she said during a phone interview Monday. “We’re hoping the university and court will help in this situation.”

The practicums are an important part of the program, she believes, and not something she sees as just a requirement to graduate.

“Experience is key,” she said. “We have some great assignments and teaching in the classroom here, during the school hours, but getting into the schools and teaching the kids yourself and finding out new ways and new things from the teachers who are there, you need it.”

St. FX’s practicums are supposed to start again on March 20. She hopes that something will be resolved by then.