The president of the Nova Scotia Teachers Union is standing by comments he made Wednesday that schools in the province are in chaos just days before the school year is set to begin.
“We don’t use that word lightly, but it’s fair and accurate when you look at what’s actually happening in schools,” said NSTU President Paul Wozney.
According to Wozney, the hallways of some schools are full of furniture that hasn’t been hauled away yet.
He also says some bathrooms aren’t working properly and teachers don’t know the proper procedures for getting students on and off buses and moving them throughout schools.
Wozney wants the provincial government to move two professional development days scheduled for later in the school year to next week, to give teachers more time to prepare for students to return to the classroom on Tuesday.
“We’re not ready. We’re not safe and we’re not prepared for them,” said Wozney. “This is a school year like no other and it’s just not acceptable that we’re going to send kids into buildings where we’re not ready to keep them safe and the resources, the materials, the practices in place to the degree that’s necessary.”
Nova Scotia Premier Stephen McNeil took issue with Wozney’s choice of words.
“The rhetoric around schools being in chaos is not helpful and not accurate,” said McNeil during a news conference in Halifax on Thursday.
Government said it is not considering delaying the start of the school year by two days.
“We do not have an operational or an epidemiological reason to consider that at this point. We’ve had our plan and guidelines out now for over a month,” said Nova Scotia Education Minister Zach Churchill.
“I want you to think about this for a second, we’re going to welcome 130,000 young people back into our schools who have been out since March. And he’s asking for two more days. Think about that for a second, just think about that. That’s his priority? Our priority is to continue to make sure that we work with parents and families to get their children back in school,” said McNeil.
The province’s chief medical officer of health is encouraging parents to talk to their children about how they’re feeling before school resumes Tuesday.
“Help them understand what will be expected of them at school,” said Dr. Robert Strang. “Things will be different; mask-wearing is one example. Talk to them about any fears they may have … help them understand that it’s normal to be fearful, normal to be anxious.”
With government not budging on a delayed start to the school year, the NSTU says it plans to file a policy grievance.
“Teachers are not saying enough is enough. We’re going to use our ability through the collective agreement to challenge for safe working conditions,” said Wozney.
UNIONS STANDING TOGETHER
The Nova Scotia Government and General Employees Union represents a number of groups who work in the school system, including secretaries, educational assistants, school support workers, library staff, IT technicians, early childhood educators, payroll clerks and bus drivers.
The NSGEU says it stands with the NSTU in calling for improved safety in schools and a delayed opening.
“Workers have a right to work in a safe environment according to the Nova Scotia Occupational Health and Safety Act,” says Sandra Mullen, NSGEU 1st vice-president. “The government has not done enough to ensure a safe workplace.”
“It is very concerning that while the province will not return to the legislature because of questions regarding safety from COVID spread, they are willing to send students back to school without the teachers saying they are ready,” says Mullen. “Why do they continue to ignore frontline workers?”
CALLS FOR PAID SICK LEAVE
Meanwhile, the NDP is calling on the McNeil government to put paid sick leave in place before students go back to the classroom.
Leader Gary Burrill says, without paid sick leave, parents and children will not be able to self-isolate.
“For this education reopening plan to work, parents are going to have to take leave from work to care for children who need a COVID-19 test. Unfortunately, a huge number of parents do not have access to paid sick leave, forcing them to choose between following public health guidance and being able to afford rent and groceries,” said Burrill.
He says families should not lose pay because their children need to be tested and is calling on government to bring forward a plan for paid sick leave for every working person in Nova Scotia.
In addition, the NDP is also calling for an expedited testing strategy for students, teachers, and staff in schools.