May 11, 2023

The CUPE Strike and HRCE’s Discrimination Against Students with Disabilities

Students with disabilities and their families understand the importance of CUPE 5047 members. They know that EPAs and other support staff are critical to school access and success – and that the inclusion of children with disabilities in schools fosters a more welcoming and inclusive society. CUPE members truly are the inclusion part of “inclusive education.” Each day, as EPAs support students with meals and personal care, ensure engagement in classroom activities, and make participation in field trips possible, they act as students’ lifeline to full participation in school life.

Unfortunately, unfair compensation and staffing shortages among EPAs threatens the ability of children with disabilities to be part of school life. CUPE members report that they are seeking other lines of work, a loss that would be a blow to students with disabilities. And every day in Nova Scotia, children with disabilities are denied educational and school-centred social opportunities because there are not enough EPAs to offer required supports. There is no greater proof of the importance of EPAs and other support staff than the fact that when they are involved in a legal strike, students with disabilities cannot even attend school!

HRCE’s decision during this strike to exclude children with disabilities while welcoming able children runs contrary to the premise of inclusivity. This is morally wrong. It is also against the law. Children with disabilities have the human right to attend school. Canada is signatory to the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (UNCRPD). Article 24 of the UNCRPD prohibits discrimination against children with disabilities and mandates the right of children with disabilities to access education alongside their non-disabled peers. Each province and territory in Canada, including Nova Scotia, as well as the federal government, have ratified this Convention. This means that Nova Scotia is legally required to adhere to the Convention and the federal government must ensure it is upheld across jurisdictions.
Nova Scotia is not currently following this law. Instead, thousands of children who want to attend schools alongside their non-disabled peers in HRCE are being denied that right. HRCE’s claim that the CUPE strike has led to “minimal disruptions” is, quite simply, untrue and it is ableist – and it sends a cruel message that students with disabilities are unimportant. Each and every student in HRCE who depends on an EPA has had their school year come to a screeching halt while their siblings, friends and classmates without disabilities can continue to learn, practice for spring concerts, go on field trips, and socialize with their friends.

Nova Scotia Parents for Public Education realizes how essential is the work of CUPE members in supporting students with disabilities and how dire is the crisis of EPA shortages in our schools. We demand the government end its discrimination against students with disabilities and negotiate a fair contract for CUPE 5047.

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