HALIFAX — Nova Scotia’s schools are going to reopen Tuesday, as the province’seducation minister says she’s satisfied students will remain safe during a teacher work-to-rule campaign.
The Liberal government had cancelled school Monday and planned to introduce legislation imposing a contract as the Nova Scotia Teachers Union launched work-to-rule following a breakdown in talks.
The union had directed its members to do the minimum amount of work required under the current agreement, including arriving at school 20 minutes before classes begin and leaving 20 minutes after they end.
Education Minister Karen Casey said at an afternoon news conference on Tuesday that the original decision to close schools was needed to ensure student safety, citing risks posed by the union’s job action.
But she said discussions with the union leadership over the safety issues had allayed her concerns.
“We are confident the Nova Scotia Teachers Union has modified its directives in such a way that schools can now open safely,” she said.
Casey said she now believes that school administrators can “take all reasonable steps to create and maintain an orderly safe learning environment in our schools.”
In addition, the minister said, “principals are now able to use cell phones more than 20 minutes before school begins and 20 minutes after school ends and that is an important communications tool.”
Casey had previously said schools could be closed for up to a week, depending on the passage of a bill that would impose the contract on the union representing 9,300 educators in the province.
Liberal House leader Michel Samson said suddenly Monday morning, however, the bill was being delayed, and Casey said she would welcome a return to the bargaining table with the teachers’ union.
Liette Doucet, president of the teachers’ union, said her provincial executive would be meeting later Monday to discuss its next move in light of events.
Progressive Conservative Leader Jamie Baillie said the government is scrambling in the face of public pressure and he believes pressure from Liberal backbenchers.
“Obviously the government is in chaos, the government MLAs are freaking out,” said Baillie.
Casey’s original weekend announcement of the school closures left parents scrambling to find childcare with less than 48 hours notice.
Dozens of protesters, including some students and sympathizers from other public sector unions, showed up at the legislature Monday to voice their discontent with the government’s apparent move toward a legislated settlement to the long-simmering contract dispute.
Some carried signs saying “Let Teachers Teach” and “Negotiate Don’t Legislate.”
Contract negotiations between the province and the NSTU fell apart Nov. 25 after the sides agreed to meet with a conciliator following failed attempts to convene a conciliation board and to take the dispute to mediation.