Teach­ers de­tail prob­lems

Schools un­der staffed and stressed, com­mit­tee told

Cape Breton Post - - CAPE BRETON/PROVINCE -

Nova Sco­tia teach­ers de­scribed scenes of vi­o­lence, ne­glect and crammed class­rooms Thurs­day as they spoke out against a gov­ern­ment bill im­pos­ing a col­lec­tive agree­ment on them.

“The rise in stu­dent men­tal ill­ness is­sues is over­whelm­ing teach­ers. Where are the sup­ports for these most vul­ner­a­ble of our stu­dents?’’ high school science teacher Ti­mothy Ma­cLeod, his voice break­ing as he told politi­cians about help­ing his pupils cope with the grief of los­ing a class­mate to sui­cide.

Ma­cLeod told the law amend­ments com­mit­tee that he has up to 30 stu­dents with vastly dif­fer­ing abil­i­ties crammed into an ag­ing lab de­signed to hold about 20 stu­dents, per­form­ing ex­per­i­ments with ob­so­lete equip­ment.

Ma­cLeod and other pre­sen­ters ar­gued the four-year contract be­ing im­posed on teach­ers fails to ad­dress de­te­ri­o­rat­ing class­room con­di­tions.

The 48-year-old ed­u­ca­tor said if he and other teach­ers at Mill­wood high school in Hal­i­fax had more time, they may have been able to help pre­vent sui­cides or a high-pro­file case where two stu­dents were ar­rested for al­legedly trans­port­ing weapons in a duf­fle bag early last year.

“This leg­is­la­tion at­tacks the col­lec­tive rights of work­ers. This will lead to a court chal­lenge that will cost mil­lions in tax­pay­ers dol­lars. Money that could go into class­rooms, my class­room,’’ he said.

The gov­ern­ment’s im­posed contract would in­clude cre­ation of a coun­cil that will in­vest $20 mil­lion over two years to ad­dress class­room con­di­tions, which Ma­cLeod said isn’t enough.

Lib­eral House Leader Michel Sam­son says the gov­ern­ment rec­og­nizes the teach­ers’ con­cerns and will work to im­prove the class­room prob­lems and may con­sider ad­di­tional fund­ing.

“We’re go­ing to let our ac­tions speak for our­selves and the teach­ers will see we were lis­ten­ing and we are go­ing to make changes, we are go­ing to ad­dress the con­cerns they have raised,’’ he said in an in­ter­view out­side of the hear­ings.

The teach­ers are plan­ning a one-day strike to­day — the first time the ed­u­ca­tors have walked out since the union was formed 122 years ago.

Premier Stephen McNeil has said his ne­go­tia­tors have tried to se­cure an agree­ment for 16 months and con­tin­u­ing talks after mem­bers re­jected three sep­a­rate deals sim­ply per­mits on­go­ing dis­rup­tion in the class­room.

The law — which the gov­ern­ment is hop­ing will be passed by Tues­day — will bring an end to the teach­ers’ work-to-rule cam­paign, which be­gan Dec. 5. The rules of the cam­paign stip­u­lated that teach­ers should only re­port for work 20 min­utes be­fore class starts and leave 20 min­utes after the school day ends.

In a speech Wed­nes­day to the Cham­ber of Com­merce, McNeil de­scribed the need to main­tain a bal­anced bud­get, ar­gu­ing the days of ac­cu­mu­lat­ing debts for fu­ture gen­er­a­tions must come to an end.

Cherie Abriel, a re­source teacher in a ju­nior high school in Bi­ble Hill, told the com­mit­tee McNeil’s ar­gu­ments are un­con­vinc­ing at a time when ba­sic ser­vices to stu­dents with learn­ing dis­abil­i­ties aren’t be­ing met.

“Many of them need life skills sup­port, so­cial skills sup­port. I have stu­dents in my classes who mas­tur­bate,’’ she said, adding she has dif­fi­culty find­ing time to come up with plans to help al­ter be­hav­iour prob­lems.

“We have no spe­cial ed­u­ca­tion class­room in our school. There’s no teach­ing pro­gram to help with those stu­dents. As a teacher fo­cused on lit­er­acy and learn­ing, I’m sud­denly fo­cused on life skills for these stu­dents, some of whom are non-ver­bal and some who are blind.’’

CP PHOTO

Stu­dents and par­ents protest out­side the leg­is­la­ture in Hal­i­fax on Dec. 5, 2016. Nova Sco­tia teach­ers tes­ti­fied Thurs­day that class­room prob­lems rang­ing from stu­dent vi­o­lence to the ne­glect of stu­dents with learn­ing dis­abil­i­ties will worsen if the Lib­eral gov­ern­ment pushes through a bill that im­poses a col­lec­tive agree­ment.

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