July 13, 2021
Freedom of Information Request reveals several hundred Covid exposures tied to NS Schools
The NSTU releases the result of a FOIPOP request, which discloses that 694 potential Covid cexposures were tied to schools in the province, between March 1, 2020 and April 29, 2021, the highest number of potential exposures at public spaces.
- Subsequent to April 29, but before the end of May, we know at least six more schools were listed, and several more school related cases were cited to us.
- In June, nine more schools were listed with new cases.
- We also know that the IWK has stated there were over 850 cases for children under 18 years of age.
- Many of the school cases were teachers and other staff, including bus drivers.
694 COVID-19 cases linked to N.S. schools as potential exposure sites – Halifax | Globalnews.ca
July 7, 2021
The Auditor General of Nova Scotia release a report on the Preprimary Program rollout on the province.
CBC News reports “Our overall conclusion is that there was not proper planning before the program was rolled out into the school system,” Adair-MacPherson told CBC News.
The report suggests the provincial government rushed the start of the pre-primary program, didn’t properly cost it out and failed to properly assess its impact on the daycare sector.
The auditor general’s criticisms of “inadequate planning” included:
- Identifying program goals and measuring success.
- Identifying potential risks to the program, as well as ways to mitigate those risks.
- Analyzing the full costs of the new program.
- Consulting with stakeholders.
- Ensuring roles and responsibilities of employees are clear.
“We found that background checks and employee qualifications were sometimes not provided at all or were provided after the individual started working in the classroom,” noted the report.
Pre-primary planning ‘inadequate,’ rushed to meet election promise, AG finds | CBC News
Other concerns noted by families in Nova Scotia, included schools that were already over crowded could not accomodate the additional grade, and even with a transition of Grade Six to Junior High Schools, important resource classrooms were lost, and portable classrooms and modular buildings needed to be added to many sites to accomodate overpopulated schools.
June 18, 2021
Social Studies courses in Nova Scotia need to meet the TRC recommendations
Curriculum in NS Schools has come under fire over the outdated and offensive content included in corresondence classwork. Outdated and hurtful phrasing in questions around Indigenous history being taught in 2021.
CBC News reports the Minister of Education was contacted about the content. Minister Mombourquette could not say how the material had been vetted. “This was an oversight and it made it out and it shouldn’t have made it out. And I apologize for it getting to the students,” he said Thursday.
A department spokesperson told the CBC Friday the material was created in 2003, 12 years before the Truth and Reconciliation Committee released its recommendations in 2015.”
2003… 18 years ago.
Grade 10 distance course asks about ‘benefits’ of residential schools, calls First Nations alcoholism ‘common’ | CBC News
June 18, 2021
Reviewing objectives and measuring results not possible in the darkness of Covid
One of the most interesting documents to read regarding public education in NS is the ‘briefing binder’ that is prepared for the Minister at the beginning of each legislative session. It is a collection of information notes on ready-to-enact legislation and policies, or issues that are anticipated to come up in the House. All are described as advice to the Minister, and each note includes key messages, a summary of existing programs and supports, as well as relevant facts and figures. Basically, these are the talking points for government action regarding education. The briefing binders are frequently made public through FOIPOP requests. The latest one, prepared for the last legislative session (March-April 2021) was just released: 2021-00451-EDU (online at openinformation.novascotia.ca).
Not surprisingly, the ‘Back to School Plan’ is front and centre. That said, there are plenty of interesting tidbits. Amongst others: – the interim report from the developmental evaluation of the new Inclusive Education Policy was to be released ‘shortly’ (we are still waiting) – there was to be a new legislation for CSAP, specifically ‘modern legislation related to governance and accountability’ – there was to be more feedback from SACs through to the Regional Centres on school improvement and student well-being, achievement, and success – there was a new program to enable high school students to enroll in a university-level computer science course at Dalhousie University, free of charge.
The legislature may not reconvene before the next provincial election is called, which means that the information contained in this document will not gain a wider audience. It may be worthwhile to highlight some of the issues and information it contains so that these education matters remain top of mind should we find ourselves headed to the polls.
May 18, 2021
NS Parents for Public Education Dispute Facts behind Teacher Cuts
The recent cuts to teaching staff at many HRM high schools has raised concerns for the group Nova Scotia Parents for Public Education. They believe the reasons being given for the cuts do not match the facts. And they question why misinformation is being used as justification for cuts.
Claim 2: Student enrollment is less than it was 10 years ago and yet we have more teachers. The enrollment in the Halifax region in 2011 was 49,531.2 HRCE’s own projections for 2021 were 51,360.2 That is a 4 per cent increase in enrollment in 10 years. It is not a decrease.
Claim 1: Cuts are based on normal adjustments due to declining student enrollment.
While there are always year to year adjustments, based on enrollment, the number of teacher cuts do not match enrollment changes. Three examples of high school enrollment numbers are below. 2021 and 2022 are based on HRCE’s own projections as calculated in 2018.1,2
Citadel High Halifax West Dartmouth High
2017-2018 1,259 1,448 953
2018-2019 1,411 1,455 989
2019-2020 1,467 1,482 1,006
2020-2021 1,499 1,512 1,001 (note HRCE had projected 966)
2021-2022 1,468 1,513 915 (as 2020 projections were low this may be too)
2022-2023 1,469 1,550 975 (as 2020 projections were low this may be too)
The above schools are losing 9 or 10 teachers each. Projections predict an overall decline of 115 students among all 3 schools. That is a decline of 1 teacher for every 4 students.
“We are seeing cuts to schools that are clearly not based on student population changes,” notes Stacey Rudderham, of NS Parents for Public Education. “At a time when our students are going to need more help, not less, as we hopefully exit this pandemic.”
Claim 3: This is adjusting prep time to the same as the rest of the province and/or UIT is not the best use of teacher time. The minister has referred numerous times to this being an adjustment to prep time. It is NOT. This is the removal of unassigned instructional time (UIT). Unassigned — but still instructional. UIT is assigned to each teacher by the school and is used to provide things like study halls, extra help, and substitute teaching. Supports that require teachers. Prep time is a different thing altogether – and the minister should know this. UIT is specifically referred to in the HRCE’s 2019-2020 business plan as scheduled time to be used to support student success.3(pg26) And yet it is being eliminated at a time when students need more help than ever.
While tasks like hall monitoring, cafeteria supervision, and certain covid protocols could have always been done by others. Who will be doing this now? Will additional staff be hired or will schools have to adjust on their own? And take funds from other programs to pay for it?
It is important to note that while UIT is unique to HRCE that does not mean teachers in other regions do not take responsibility for similar tasks. Many schools assign study hall or assisting another teacher in their classroom as part of a teacher’s daily schedule (instead of a classroom assignment). That is the only way that these supports can exist in schools. It did not necessarily mean more workload for other teachers. HRCE has made it clear that UIT will be replaced with classroom time. This mean that supports will be disappearing. This may, in fact, end up being an adjustment that favours the rest of the province rather than equalizing things.
Claim 4: No teachers will be laid off.
Saying no teachers will be laid off is the equivalent of taking away school buses from one region of the province, adding more school buses to another region, and saying no bus routes were cancelled. Moving teachers to other schools does not change that this is cuts to staffing levels in HRCE schools. And the minister neglects to mention retiring teachers who are not being replaced. It does not solve the problem to learn that teachers will get jobs elsewhere.
Claim 5: Student supports will remain the same.
Fewer teachers and the same (or more) students will mean less time for student supports.
Teachers in HRCE will now teach 7 courses per year instead of 6. It is patently obvious that this will result in less time available to provide other supports. In this adjustment some course options will disappear. And some teachers have been assigned subjects that are outside their areas of expertise which will increase their prep needs. Further reducing their availability to their students.
“Students have made incredible sacrifices in the last year,” says Rudderham. “To make a
dramatic change like this, that will reduce their course selections and the amount of time
available for teacher driven supports, could not be worse timing for our young people.”
HRM contributes a higher percentage of mandatory funding to education than other regions (collected as a percentage in property taxes). The HRM contributes $2,839 per student vs. $1,838 per student paid by other municipalities.4
In 2020 the HRM contributed nearly 25% of the entire HRCE operating budget.4
HRM’s contribution grew by 54% in a 10-year period4 when enrollment grew by only 4%. HRM also pays supplementary funding – the approved 2020/21 budget for Supplementary Education was $14,546,100.4 Where is this funding going? No other municipality pays as much toward education as HRM and its contribution to education has grown faster than the student population. Yet HRM schools are being targeted for these cuts.
- 30 –
May 17, 2021
‘The challenge was real’ for Nova Scotia teachers in a pandemic school year
by Elizabeth McMillan, CBC News
Teachers provided their perspectives in this report from CBC.
Some of the anonymous comments included:
- “It is impossible to socially distance from four and five year olds. Yet my students are not allowed to share counters or blocks. They have not learned how to work together or with a partner or how to share, but they are jammed in my classroom on top of each other.”
- “Students and teachers seem to be having more mental health issues than before. We are burnt out, scared of getting sick, and feel like our government sees us as expendable.”
- “It is incredibly exhausting. I am worried about contracting the virus or worse, spreading it to elderly members of my family. I believe that if we have been deemed essential workers then we should also be a priority to vaccinate.”
- “My biggest concern/complaint is that the government did not reduce class sizes in order to properly space students within the appropriate social distancing guidelines.”
- “Those making decisions are safely out of harm’s way therefore those decisions do not impact their own personal safety.”
- “If anything, I would really like the public to know that I am doing my very best trying to teach the children, and keep them safe.”
May 17, 2021
by Adam Davies, former elected school board representative
Decisions made that don’t represent forecasts
One of the most important documents held by the RCEs is their Long Range Outlook (LRO). It is supposed to be a ready reference tool to inform their decision making. It includes historic and projected information on student enrolment (both at school and within a family of schools), facility usage (i.e. capacity), and capital projects. A few years ago, the Centres (then boards) invested in Baragar demographics technology to make the LRO projections as accurate as possible.The LROs are to be updated annually. Student enrolment numbers would have been collected in September 2019, thereby changing the capacity data as needed, and the programming information at each school would have been tracked throughout the school year. Presumably because of COVID however, the documents themselves were not updated in 2020 so the information is current only to 2018. That said, it is strange that the LRO data has not figured more prominently in the ongoing discussions and debates about staffing at HRCE schools.Here is the link to the HRCE Long Range Outlook document: https://www.hrce.ca/…/def…/files/hrsb/lro-2019-final.pdf And below is the student enrolment data for the Auburn Drive Family of Schools (posted here only as they are the first ones listed in the School Information section):
May 14, 2021
by Adam Davies, former elected school board representative
When we had elected school boards…
The recent education changes in Halifax and elsewhere are in stark contrast to how these kinds of decisions were made in the days of elected school boards. I was an elected school board member from 2012 until the boards were dissolved in 2018, and this is my experience. The budget process began in the spring. Numerous scenarios were developed by the board’s finance staff. Usually there was a status quo scenario, along with a range of others depending on an anticipated increase/decrease in funding, new supports and services that were to be made available, or a change in priorities. (It is important to remember that about 85% of the budget had already been allocated, in the form of salaries, benefits, obligations, and commitments, so the focus was on the remaining 15% or so.) Elected board members were then presented with these scenarios, at a special board meeting done in camera, and with the senior members of staff in attendance. The Finance Committee, a standing committee of the elected board, led a series of meetings about the budget scenarios. The superintendent, as the sole employee of the elected board, brought forward staff recommendations and suggestions. These were put alongside the stated priorities of the elected board. As board members, there was plenty of opportunities to add your own voice to the discussions and to learn the impact of the decisions that were to be made. Again, in my experience, these meetings were full of discussion and debate but always with a focus on what was in the best interests of all students. Eventually, a draft version of the budget was brought forward to the Committee-of-the-Whole. This was a public meeting and the first real change for the public to see what the budget may look like. A flurry of activity usually followed as people raised their questions and concerns, and there was plenty of communication through to senior staff members to have questions answered. The budget was then brought forward to a full board meeting, were a motion was put forward and then voted on in public. What makes the contrast even deeper is that in 2018 the Nova Scotia School Boards Association (NSSBA) completed its’ provincial framework for board governance. Amongst other things, this framework would have seen elected school boards be more accountable to the citizens of the province, specifically in making the above process more widely known. But the government decided to do away with the English-language boards, and what is happening in HRCE is the result. (Below is an example of the kind of accountability elected school boards provided.)
May 9, 2021
by Adam Davies, former elected school board representative
Decisions must be made in public
This is why we need school boards and public oversight and accountability in education. Without notice, rationale or explanation, the Halifax Regional Centre for Education is preparing to cut staffing by 12.5% and to eliminate Unassigned Instructional Time (UIT; which is used to provide additional support to students and to provide breaks to other teachers). This decision will affect nearly 1/2 of the students and school staff in NS. If there was a Halifax school board in place, this decision would have been explained, debated and decided in public. As it is now, we know very little about it. To quote from the column linked below, ‘It’s worth reminding families that until Bill 72 wiped out their elected, community-first elected trustees that Elwin LeRoux’s callous plan to eliminate UIT during a pandemic would have been subject to Elected Trustees’ approval. Now? It’s a call he makes himself, accountable solely to Minister of Education and Early Childhood Development Derek Mombourquette.’We all deserve so much better.
NSTU President, Paul Wozney explains the impacts of teaching position cuts in HRCE
May 8, 2021
by Stacey Rudderham, NSPFPE Co-Chair
Online Learning Environment Needs Greater Protection
As online learning started in in Nova Scotia, a new policy was in effect that all students and teachers would be using the same platform for delivery of classwork and assignments. Several options that had been in play for previous at home learning was excluded as options out of concerns about security. Within days, there were some horrible stories coming from students and teachers about meeting crashers, anonymous and mostly off camera intruders, who were causing disturbances and using inappropriate languge. Within days they stories came with increased urgency. Kids were being dropped from their classrooms. Teachers were being called every horrible name and threatened among other things, in front of their students online. Many teachers spoke about a lack of solutions, lack of training and examples of when the instructions were not working. There some horriby disheartening stories. When I posted about this issue on our Facebook page, and media started paying attention, and so did government, and the issue was finally resolved. But not without further deflection or finger pointing. The Education department’s response to my post was first, at a staff level, to dispute the severity of the claims being presented to our group, then chastise me for posting about this issue, referring to it as a blame game.
As a parent, I don’t care why the Department thinks this issue existed, but rather why the Department allowed the issue to exist at all, and why it went on for several days. Classrooms need to be safe at all times for students and for teachers. I can only hope this issue is never a conern again going forward.
Online learning raises concerns of cyberbullying (halifaxexaminer.ca)
April 29, 2021
Nova Scotia Government Lacks Transparency on Covid-19 Cases in Schools
Parent Group Calls on Government to Proactively Report All Potential Exposure in Schools
Halifax, NS— The Nova Scotia Parents for Public Education has received letters from dozens of parents documenting cases of Covid-19 inside Nova Scotia schools. The letters come from Public Health and outline instances where students and multiple staff members have tested positive, but these cases have not been announced publicly.
“It’s hard for parents to believe that Covid-19 is not being spread in schools when it appears that government isn’t reporting all of the cases,” says Stacey Rudderham with Nova Scotia Parents for Public Education. “In many instances, parents have no idea that their children may have been exposed to Covid-19.”
The group applauds the Rankin government’s decision to close all schools on Tuesday, but feels parents and staff are still lacking crucial health and safety information. Up until last week, all potential school-based exposures were being reported by the Department of Education and Early Childhood Development.
“We have seen official Public Health reports indicating positive Covid-19 results within schools, yet there’s been no information from government on these cases,” says Rudderham. “This is a public safety concern and people have a right to know.”
Monday, the province shut down schools in the Halifax area, however officials maintained that there was still no spread of Covid-19 in schools and that schools were safe. The following day it requested assistance from the Canadian Military to help with testing and shut down the remaining schools in the province.
“We are concerned about new variants and how they are affecting our children,” says Lisa Bond, a Nova Scotia Parents for Public Education member in Cape Breton where up to 500 people are waiting for testing connected to exposure at an arena in the region. “We don’t take this call to action lightly. This virus is hitting working adults and young people harder than before, and I worry we are risking long-term illness or death because of a lack of information.” Bond says.
The group is concerned with how under-reporting may have also led to some level of complacency and members are worried that there may have been more spread within schools than what was previously reported. The group is urging Premier Rankin and Dr. Strang to investigate why EECD has been allowed to stop reporting cases in schools.
Nova Scotia Parents for Public Education was founded in 2016 by parents concerned with government’s deteriorating relationship with teachers. There are close to 18,000 members working to promote and protect public education.
April 7, 2021
Advisory Council or Assembly?
by Adam Davies, former elected school board representative
Yesterday, BILL 91 was introduced in the legislature. It is a private member’s bill, put forward by Allan MacMaster of the PCs, which provides a definition of ‘Gaelic education’ and calls for the establishment of a Council on Gaelic Education. For our purposes here, two broad points stand out.
– Bill 91 outlines a Council on Gaelic Education, which would share the same standing as the Conseil scolaire acadien provincial (CSAP), the Council on African-Canadian Education (CACE), and the Council on Mi’kmaq Education (CME) on the Provincial Advisory Council on Education (PACE – although it is referred to in the bill as the ‘Parental Advisory Council on Education’, which is what is needed but sorely lacking).
Does this mean that PACE moves closer to the centre of the education system? Does it remain an advisory body, or does it become as assembly of education-based councils and regional members, perhaps with more than an advisory role?
– the proposed Council is ‘to promote the rights and interests of Gaelic Nova Scotians by providing recommendations to the Minister on programs and services in public schools and to the Minister of Labour and Advanced Education on post-secondary and adult education’. This is a very different approach than what exists now. If parents or a community wanted Gaelic programming in schools they were to contact their local SAC, and then work their way up through the system to the regional Program Coordinator or Program Director. Under this legislation however, the model is flipped, Gaelic programming is recognized as part of the educational programming available to students across the province, and the Council has a direct line to Ministers.
Could this be a model for rural education? In a province that has long-promised but has yet to deliver a rural education strategy, could a Council similar to the one proposed here be an appropriate starting point?
Of course, private member’s bills have a tough time becoming law, but this one deserves some attention because it demonstrates how things work in the new governance model for public education and perhaps offers guidance on how other changes could be brought forward.
March 31, 2021
Some of us have an elected school board, but the rest of us do not?
by Adam Davies, former elected school board representative
The 2021 Ministerial Mandate Letter to Derek Mombourquette, the Minister of Education and Early Childhood Development, has this instruction: ‘you will… introduce the Conseil Scolaire Acadien Provinciel (CSAP) Act to provide the policy framework to protect the Acadian language and culture.’
A CSAP Act will have a profound impact on public education in NS. Crucially, it is needed to close a key gap that was opened up by the education reform process in 2018.
As we have witnessed, education reform processes are ultimately shaped by the Charter rights and guarantees of the minority language parents and communities (see Section 23 and ensuing SCoC decisions). Specifically, the Charter shapes the education governance model. French-language parents and communities are afforded a province-wide, school board model, with a high degree of oversight and management of education facilities and control over the curriculum regarding cultural and linguistic matters; all of which serves to fulfill and protect hard-won rights. On the other hand, English-language parents and communities are to build local, school-based, decision-making bodies – which are largely untested and, as NS has shown, unsupported by either the Department or the Regional Centres of Education. Public accountability is further reduced through the creation of provincial advisory committees, which are appointed (not elected) and depend entirely on the Minister to give them purpose.
The gap here is two-fold. First, does access to an elected school board for some, but not all, people in the province meet a measure of equivalence between the minority and the majority? Second, is the protection and fulfillment of French-language education rights intrinsically linked to an elected school board, or can French-language parents and communities also build their own local, school-based, decision-making bodies? Put another way, is an elected school board necessary to fulfill education rights?
A CSAP Act is also important in that it may point the way forward to improving accountability within the public education system. For instance, this legislation will likely reinforce the idea that school boards can be built on the idea of shared rights, communities of interest, and common focus – and not on a geographic/regional basis. Perhaps that is the thing ALL of us need to think about as we look to the future of public education in NS.
There is a lot to learn from the CSAP.
February 22, 2021
Learning gaps between students are schools’ next COVID challenge
Grant Frost, published in The Chronicle Herald
Last week, thousands of students in Ontario returned to in-person learning. This marked the latest in a series of rolling dates that saw kids returning to Ontario schools even as that province continues to battle stubbornly high COVID-19 numbers. Citing a reduction in community spread, Doug Ford’s Progressive Conservative government chose Feb. 16 as the reopening day for schools in the Toronto, Peel and York regions.
Reaction to the decision has been mixed and has followed a pattern similar to other jurisdictions across the country. On one side, the government was posting messages about extra precautions and improved cleaning practices. On the other, you had opposition parties and labour organizations clamouring for more assurances that schools were indeed safe. Somewhere in the middle you had parents — torn between the angst of at-home learning and the uncertainty of their local school’s capacity to keep their kids COVID-free.
Those concerns are not unfounded, of course. Schools are not hospitals. Physical distancing, preventative ventilation and good student hygiene were undoubtedly not part of the construction plan when the walls went up.
For better or worse, however, the deed is done, and the next few weeks will determine the effectiveness of Ontario’s back-to-school plan. If it goes poorly, schools will be re-shuttered and the government will need to answer some pretty tough questions. If it doesn’t go poorly, well, that’s when the real work begins.
You see, there hasn’t been much argument that kids aren’t much better off in school than out of it. Whether for their own well-being, that of their parents, or as an economic impetus, having a place to send our young ones every day that isn’t our own kitchen table has multiple and tangible benefits. Although many of the statements about student mental wellness and school attendance have been based on what school used to be, as opposed to what it has become, it would be hard to argue against the common logic. The pressing question isn’t whether kids should be in school or not, it is what to do with them when they get there.
Once school starts up again, many students, particularly BIPOC students, will be behind the 8-ball. That begs the question of the extent to which jurisdictions have turned their minds to how they will deal with that reality.
It is this element that has seemed almost forgotten in the conversation. Much like there is a general consensus that students should return to classes as soon as it is safe, there is also a general consensus that students have fallen behind because of COVID-19 closures. In one recent study out of the United States, it was suggested that pandemic-based learning had cost students a third of a year in academic progress. The same study concluded that the gap was larger in students whose jurisdictions had gone fully online, and was more pronounced among Black children. Indeed, the data showed that Black students’ ability, as measured through standardized tests, decreased an additional 50 per cent in comparison to white students. Put another way, where white students were behind by one-third of a year, Black students were behind by a full half.
The study was small and thus quite limited, but it does raise some troubling concerns. Once school starts up again, many students, particularly BIPOC students, will be behind the 8-ball. That begs the question of the extent to which jurisdictions have turned their minds to how they will deal with that reality.
As is often the case, the burden for navigating this issue has fallen squarely on the backs of teachers. Having to determine the academic standing of a student when they perhaps hadn’t completed the previous grade due to COVID closure was one of the many challenges facing us when learning resumed in the fall of 2020. Teachers were then asked to make up gaps while simultaneously not pushing the kids too hard for fear of exacerbating an already stressful situation. Throw in at-home learning differences, achievement gaps in racialized as well as impoverished communities, and the fact that we are all still living in fear of the next COVID-19 outbreak, and you get some small sense of the challenges. Teachers are working overtime to navigate this new reality, but the battle has been, and will undoubtedly continue to be, decidedly uphill.
There are some fairly large ramifications here, even beyond the social justice aspects. Take for example, post-secondary institutions. One wonders how students from Nova Scotia, who have had the benefit of a more traditional, academically rigorous 2020-21 year due to low COVID numbers, will stack up against applicants from other areas when it comes to college admission requirements. Ontario, by sheer volume, obviously graduates more students than any other province. By simple extrapolation, they take up a greater number of post-secondary seats. When it comes to a program as competitive as, say, Dalhousie Nursing, will a 96 per cent from Ontario still beat out a 95 per cent from here at home?
Last year, many students saw their Grade 12 year interrupted in their final semester, but universities and community colleges had marks from the fall of 2019 upon which to base academic entrance ranking. I’m not certain the results from 2020 will provide similar clarity, particularly in jurisdictions where at-home learning went on for extended periods of time. The uncomfortable truth of the matter is that the graduating class of 2021 will consist of many students whose last full year of face-to-face academic study was their Grade 10 year. One wonders how the likely gaps will play into admission requirements, particularly for highly competitive programs.
This is only one example of the complexity of this issue, of course, but when schools reopened here in Nova Scotia in the fall of 2020, teachers weren’t given much in the way of a road map on how to proceed. In defence of those who make such decisions, there really wasn’t much of a map to be had. Regardless, many felt that the “What do we do now?” question went largely, although perhaps understandably, unanswered.
I feel that nationally we have moved beyond that point. Although getting schools reopened has been a major focus for all levels of government, that can not be the end of it. Getting kids back to school is only half the battle. Getting kids forward is where the real challenge lies.
It will be interesting to see if governments commit half as much to the one as they have to the other.
Grant Frost is an educational commentator who has been teaching for 25 years. More of his commentary can be found at frostededucation.com.
February 11, 2021
by Adam Davies, former elected school board representative
A recent FOIPOP request, 2020-20322-FTB, raises interesting questions about rights-based education, the legacy of the Glaze Report, and a two-tiered public education system within the province.
The FOIPOP request was for all documents pertaining to the draft legislation for the Conseil Scolaire Acadien Provincial (CSAP). The request was met with lots of redacted information and page after page withheld (there is an example of this here).
The push for a new Conseil Scolaire Acadien Provincial (CSAP) Act was borne of the Glaze Report. In her Report, she recommended CSAP keep its’ provincial board structure, with a recognition that ‘CSAP controls cultural and linguistic matters, follows provincial curriculum outcomes, while being able to add cultural/linguistic priorities.’ In February 2018, just about three years ago to the day, CSAP unanimously passed the following resolution:
‘A) That CSAP’s board members publicly support the education reforms stemming from Dr. Glaze’s report with regard to the CSAP and to French first language education, provided that the government introduce a distinct CSAP act; but
That in the event that the government’s legislative reform is limited to a single bill applicable to the CSAP and to P-12 English-language education which maintains the legislative status quo with regard to the CSAP, the CSAP will publicly insist that modifications be made to the bill in order to fully implement Dr. Glaze’s recommendation to recognize the uniqueness of Acadians and the CSAP as regards French first language education.’
A sharper point to that resolution was made in an explanatory letter from the president of CSAP to the Education Minister. ‘I write to request that you direct your staff responsible for implementing Dr. Glaze’s report to carve out the sections of the current Education Act that only pertain to the CSAP, without any amendments, resulting in a ‘Conseil Scolaire Acadien Provincial Act’. This would be sufficient for the CSAP to publicly applaud your legislative reform.’ That letter ended on an important note, such legislation ‘would be extremely important to the Acadian community as it would be the ultimate symbol that you and your government recognize it as a full partner in the Nova Scotian K-12 system.’
It is now three years later and it is hard to know how much progress has been made. I cannot remember the last time the Education Minister made any comments about this legislation. People are interested in the process but, as the FOIPOP request shows, very little information is being made public. A CSAP Act will be an important piece of legislation for this province and so it is frustrating to learn whatever background work is being done happens out of public view.
The province seems poised to entrench a two-tiered public education system, based on language, without much public commentary, and that benefits no one.
February 10, 2021
More questions than answers from ventilation report
Lois Ann Dort, published in the Guysborough Journal
GUYSBOROUGH – At the end of January, a short notice and report was uploaded to most provincial regional centres of education websites; a report titled Ventilation Reporting Summary.
After this newspaper and other media outlets had reported on the unsuccessful FOIPOP (Freedom of Information) request made by the Nova Scotia Progressive Conservative Education Critic Tim Halman asking for air quality reports from the province’s schools, the quiet release of these documents was perplexing.
The Journal contacted Halman for his reaction to the reports and made inquiries regarding the report to the Department of Education and Early Childhood Development and the Strait Regional Centre for Education (SRCE).
Halman told The Journal last week (Feb. 5), “In the last few days there have been many government announcements … we know the government doesn’t have a problem giving notices and announcements. The last couple of days has clearly demonstrated that. Why didn’t they do an announcement on this? Why is this information posted and no advertisement or notice given to the public?
“I have four kids. I send my kids to school. I don’t believe there is a safety issue, but I believe there is a lack of accountably and transparency issue,” said Halman, who was a teacher for 15 years before entering politics.
In addition to the quiet rollout, the summary reports offer very little information about the state of ventilation in schools and no information detailing the expenditure of the $2.7 million earmarked for ventilation maintenance and cleaning from the Federal Funding Safe Return to Class monies.
The summary reports consist of a chart listing each school in the regional centre for education and a brief response to each of the following categories: System Type (Active or Passive), Inspection completed by Sept 8, 2020 (Yes or No), Maintenance Complete? (Yes / No / N/A), System Operating as Intended? (Yes or No).
Halman said of the report, “The information that’s been provided, it’s very surface level; there’s nothing in depth. You look at the quality of the data that’s been provided – you can raise a lot of questions about that.”
Halman likens the difficulty in gaining access to information on ventilation to that of the process in gaining access to reports on lead in school water supplies, information released in Sept. 2020; and air quality problems at Ian Forsyth Elementary School in Dartmouth, in Halman’s riding, which resulted in parents pulling students out of the school in March of 2018.
The Journal asked the Department of Education and Early Childhood Development via email why there was no publicity surrounding the release of the summary reports, how and where the full reports could be accessed, and for an accounting of the federal monies spent on ventilation.
The response to these questions, via email from Violet MacLeod, a communications advisor for the Department of Education and Early Childhood Development, did not answer any of these questions.
The response stated, “Public Health has confirmed that there is no current test to directly check for COVID in the air … Public Health directed us to focus on ventilation. Ventilation system checks have been done at each and every school before students returned in the fall. Systems were checked, repaired as needed and confirmed to be in good working order; windows are able to open and systems are working as designed. The results of these checks are on the Regions/CSAP’s websites.
“Additionally, we’ve invested $2.7 million in funding to ensure checks happen through the school year and that needed repairs are made quickly with 24/hour on-call maintenance services. This is over and above annual maintenance,” wrote MacLeod.
The Journal also asked the SRCE why it did not publicize the release of the ventilation reporting summary. In an email response Tuesday (Feb. 9), SRCE’s Coordinator of Communications Deanna Gillis stated, “The SRCE uses a number of communications platforms, including print, online and social media, to regularly share information with students, staff and families on a variety of education matters. They include the SRCE website (srce.ca), Twitter (@SRCE_NS), the monthly report of the Regional Executive Director, the Stay Informed notification system for class/bus announcements and news items, region-wide email alerts, and the firstname.lastname@example.org general email is also widely shared for inquiries.”
Information about the availability of the SRCE’s ventilation reporting summary was not in the most recent regional executive director’s report. It was not posted on SRCE twitter nor emailed to parents and guardians. It is available on the SRCE website: https://srce.ca/.
February 1, 2021
PARENTS LACK TRUST IN SCHOOLS’ ONLY TRUSTEE
NS Parent Group has Numerous Concerns With Education Minister’s Inaction on
a Range of Issues
HALIFAX, NS, February 2021 — Nova Scotia Parents for Public Education is expressing
disappointment with the lack of leadership and accountability from Education Minister Zach
Churchill regarding health and safety in Nova Scotia Schools. Since the 2018 dissolution of
the English-language school boards following the Glaze Report, the Minister has been the
sole trustee of schools, and publicly stated that he would be a direct link to Nova Scotians
for their concerns and questions.
“Parents still have questions about lead in the water supply; and we are not getting answers
to our questions about ventilation in schools,” says Stacey Rudderham, a founding member
of NSP4PE. “We have the highest provincial child poverty rate in the country, and our Minister
thinks it’s a joke to tell teachers to crack a window to improve airflow.”
Rudderham says that parents are upset over the extra time their children are missing
because every cold needs a COVID test, which can take 3 extra days, and wonders if the
Minister’s refusal to adjust classroom structure is at fault. She also says teachers have
approached her with reports that they suffer from headaches daily at work, “But when they
were home over the Christmas break, those headaches disappeared. It’s wrong of the
Minister to assume that everything is fine, just because case numbers are low. Stress levels
are high, and it’s taking a toll on everyone.”
“Low case numbers are a result of Public Health protocols, and community vigilance. The
Minister has nothing to be proud of in terms of action he could have taken, or transparency
with the public.”
Adam Davies, another member of the NSP4PE Steering Committee says that he sees and
feels the frustration that parents have with Minister Churchill’s hiding act. “In the fall we got a
report about the extent of lead in the water at our schools, but we have yet to hear about
remediation.” Davies is also concerned by the missing ventilation report, considering Nova
Scotians were promised that all units in public schools were inspected before everyone
returned to the classroom in September. “Now the Minister is a week late releasing the report
that we expected to have been completed four months ago. Parents have been asking for
months and just told no.”
Davies has a unique perspective on the administration of these issues, having served on the
former Chignecto-Central Regional School Board before it and other boards were dissolved.
“As a public trustee, we had to answer to families about concerns as they came up. We
didn’t have the option to ignore requests for interviews, or send form letters to constituents.
They showed up at meetings, and confronted us in person. It doesn’t inspire confidence in
the job he’s supposed to be doing in our place.”
Both Rudderham and Davies say the message from parents is clear: take concerns about
ventilation and safe drinking water seriously, and respond to the people who are looking for
“If we don’t have school boards to approach,” says Rudderham, “and the Minister isn’t
addressing our concerns as parents and caregivers, we’re in a very poor position to actually
fix the problems.
“These aren’t niche issues. There are more than 130,000 students in public schools in this
province. They deserve accountability.”
Nova Scotia Parents for Public Education was started in 2016 by parents concerned with the
government’s deteriorating relationship with teachers. They have almost 18,000 members on
Facebook, and use their platform to promote and protect public education.
December 7, 2020
School councils were supposed to play a big role in education. Finding out what they’re up to is hard
Brittany Wentzell CBC
When students at Glace Bay High School were filmed attacking a man near a grocery store in October, Tracey Aucoin knew she wanted to help make changes at the Cape Breton school.
“My little girl is in Grade 9 and she just feels unsafe walking down some of the hallways, passing by certain areas of the school,” said Aucoin.
Aucoin, a former education assistant in the Ontario education system, isn’t just concerned about her daughter’s safety. She wants to see broader use of positive behaviour supports, which aim to reduce and prevent problematic behaviours.
She decided to join her school advisory council. However, she learned it was already full. She looked at her school website to find out about the members and their meeting times, but found the information was two years out of date. It wasn’t even clear how to contact the group.
After English-language school boards were dissolved in 2018, school advisory councils were given a bigger role to play in the hopes of maintaining local input in Nova Scotia’s education system. But finding information on them can be hard.
CBC looked at 333 Nova Scotia school websites between Nov. 19 and 23. Only a quarter of schools had recent minutes, agendas or meeting dates for their SACs posted online. The majority of SAC sections on school websites were blank or outdated by more than a calendar year.
A new education model
Aucoin’s trouble isn’t unique. Stacey Rudderham, with the group Nova Scotia Parents for Public Education, said parents in her group are coming up against inconsistencies in the new SAC model.
“We have heard from people who have reached out to their school to find out who is on their SAC and they’ve been told that it’s confidential,” she said.
After CBC called Glace Bay principal Donnie Holland to ask questions about the SAC, information on the school’s website was updated. However, by the time minutes and meeting times were posted, an emergency meeting to address the violent incident caught on video had already been held. The discussion on it was omitted in the minutes, citing privacy and confidentiality.
Aucoin also looked for information on her younger daughter’s SAC at Oceanview Middle School, also in Glace Bay, only to find the school doesn’t have one.
Rudderham’s group started on Facebook in 2016 to support teachers during their contract dispute with the province. Since then the organization has become an advocacy group for parents. She said her group is needed to provide a voice in the education system, particularly after school boards were dissolved.
“That removed our direct link to schools, to the way that education was being run,” said Rudderham. “There’s a lot of things that, you know, we would have been able to call our school board representative and bring it to their attention.”
Prior to the passing of Bill-72 in 2018, concerned parents or community members often went to their local school boards to discuss things like policy changes or bus schedules.
SACs now advise principals, regional centres for education and the Department of Education on things like bus schedules, attendance, curriculum and parent-school communication.
Councils are made up of parents, students, community members, teachers and support staff. In some cases they are elected, if interest is greater than the number of spots. The composition and number of members, to a maximum of 18, is determined by an agreement between the school, regional centre for education and the Department of Education.
They are also given a budget of $5,000 plus one dollar per student to carry out their mandates. For example, an SAC could purchase items to create an outdoor classroom for their school.
Education Minister Zach Churchill said the new model is working, but it’s taking time. He said the number of SACs has increased dramatically since 2018 and they are providing the province with advice at a local level.
“It’s had an impact on our attendance policy, on our transportation policy and on our inclusive education policy,” said Churchill.
Some SACs that CBC looked at showed a high level of engagement with their communities, including laying out what issues the council wants to address throughout the school year. But many were difficult to find information on.
That doesn’t mean they aren’t meeting.
A list provided to CBC shows most schools in the Halifax Regional Centre for Education have SACs, although few seem to have an online presence. Even one of Halifax’s largest schools, Citadel High, has not posted SAC minutes since January.
CBC requested a list of SAC chairs and contact information for each one from the Department of Education. A spokesperson directed CBC to contact the regional centres for education.
All regional centres provided CBC with a list of contact information and lists of chairs, except Chignecto Central Regional Centre for Education, which refused citing privacy concerns. Just five out of Chignecto Central’s 61 school websites indicated their SACs had met recently.
According to the province’s SAC handbook, councils can communicate in a variety of ways, including the school website, emails and newsletters.
Where to go?
Rudderham said teachers in the Nova Scotia Parents for Public Education group are hearing from parents on operational issues more than they used to, particularly around COVID-19.
That’s something echoed by Nova Scotia Teachers Union president Paul Wozney, who said teachers are hearing more about systemic issues than they used to.
“Those folks are looking to talk to somebody with some grasp of policy, some authority to change policy,” he said.
When consultant Avis Glaze was hired by the province in 2017 to review the education system, she found many issues with elected school boards, including confusion over their roles and responsibilities. The boards also had low voter turnouts during elections, pointing to a lack of public engagement.
Previous governments have also had issues with the elected boards.
Under the Progressive Conservatives, the Halifax Regional School Board and Strait Regional School board were fired over in-fighting. When the NDP held power, the South Shore Regional School Board was fired over violating bylaws and inappropriately using in-camera sessions.
But Wozney said at least the public knew when and where to find information on the board’s public meetings.
“You knew when the meetings were going to be held, you knew that you could read the minutes. They were public documents. And now parents are chasing information and transparency at a school level with people,” said Wozney.
School board meetings were commonly covered by local media organizations, and board members as well as the superintendent often took media questions.
If a reporter wants to speak to a SAC member, they must go through the principal of the school. The principal is the spokesperson for the council, even though SACs provide advice to the principal, regional centres and Department of Education.
Most regional centres in the province also provide councils with an email address to use as contact information. Principals also have access to those email accounts.
When the province dissolved school boards, it also established the Provincial Advisory Council on Education. The council is made up of appointed members, many of whom serve for two-year terms. It is accountable to the Department of Education and does not hold open meetings.
The provincial council has not posted minutes of its meetings online since December 2019. CBC made multiple requests through the Department of Education to speak to someone from the council, but did not receive a response from the council.
However, Churchill said the council has been meeting and providing the province with advice.
“They’ve been involved in advising us on inclusive education, on our busing policy, on our attendance policy as well and they were engaged in giving us advice on our back to school plan over the course of the summer,” he said.
October 29, 2020
On Tuesday, 27 October, 2020, representatives from the Department of Education and Early Childhood Development appeared before the Standing Committee on Human Resources to provide testimony on changes meant to improve outcomes for Black and Mi’kmaw students in the province.
Cathy Montreuil, Deputy Minister, in speaking of the foundational pieces for that work, said we need ‘to understand the connection between well-being and academic achievement. The two are connected, and interdependent.’
As you watch or read the proceedings of the meeting you will find a lot of attention given to well-being, which is of course important, but there was so little mention made of academic achievement or the broader aspects of student assessment, and that is a problem.
There is a concern at the heart of our education system, one which Dr Avis Glaze highlighted so succinctly in her Report – ‘The department does not enjoy the full trust of Nova Scotians’ in regard to student assessment. She suggested that the department could not credibly conduct research, analyze data, present findings, and make recommendations because of ‘perceived bias’, interference, and politics. Indeed, she went so far as to recommend that an ‘independent Student Progress Assessment Office (SPAO)’ be created to take responsibility for assessment away from the Department. (This was Recommendation 14 in her Report.)
As we know, the idea of an independent SPAO was not something that the government endorsed, and the changes that it implemented moved everything pertaining to public education inside a highly centralized authority. The Minister and the department rarely explain student assessment data. Data is not shared in a meaningful way, and there is very little in the way of tracking a cohort of students from their first provincial assessment in Grade 3 to an exam in Grade 10.
The opportunity/achievement gap is a persistent and troubling reality, and we have no chance to close it unless trust is restored and accountability is returned to the system.
*****The video for the HR Committee hearing runs for a couple of hours but it is essential viewing (or reading once the transcript is posted) for those who want to hear from the top administrators of the department on the key issues within the system.
Here is the link to the video: Oct. 27, 2020 – Human Resource Committee Proceedings
February 23, 2018
Nova Scotia Parents for Public Education stands with Nova Scotia’s Teachers
On February 20th, 2018, members of the Nova Scotia Teachers’ Union voted in unprecedented numbers in favour of strike action. This is a very decisive vote, especially given that teachers know that any strike action is illegal.
A strike vote and any subsequent strike action are clearly acts of mass civil disobedience against a government obviously determined to seize greater control of the administration of public education and engage in effectively rendering the teachers’ union powerless. The fact that teachers are willing to engage in this activity should be a clear warning to all Nova Scotians of the dangers of this government’s actions. The government has broken the trust of the group of professionals who are in charge of our children’s education. It
is a message to all Nova Scotians that we need to wake up, do our homework and really inform ourselves as to what is happening in this province with our children’s education.
Nova Scotia Parents for Public Education (formerly Nova Scotia Parents for Teachers) supports the teachers and their campaign to resist the government’s agenda. We are a group dedicated to preserving and enhancing public education in Nova Scotia. Our group started more than a year ago in response to the government’s contract dispute with teachers, and today our group has more than 19,000 members.
This Liberal government, since it first came to power, has engaged in an aggressive campaign of curtailment of democracy and union busting. They have imposed “essential services” legislation, hobbling the strike weapon for over 40,000 public and para-public workers (nearly 10% of the working population of the province) in acute health care, long term health care institutions, care facilities, group homes, 911 operators, ambulance services, home support, child protection and people working in homes for seniors, youth at risk and the disabled. They have attempted to gerrymander the bargaining units in acute healthcare to change which unions represented different groups of workers. This government has, legislatively, allowed universities to bypass collective bargaining obligations by declaring financial exigency. They have removed teachers’ right to strike by imposing terms of a collective agreement. They have curtailed arbitrators’ powers to settle disputes with public and para-public workers.
Moreover, the government has announced its intention, among other things, to shut down all Anglophone elected school boards, remove principals from the teachers’ collective bargaining unit and foist a College of Educators on the teaching profession. Not one of these actions will make classroom conditions any better for students and teachers, and in fact will make them worse.
The illegality of a teachers’ strike is a technical matter, given that a collective agreement was imposed upon the teachers in February, 2017. Teachers never voted for that collective agreement nor were they even given the opportunity to vote on it. In fact, teachers voted against proposed collective bargaining settlements no less than three times last year, each by an increasing majority.
Nova Scotia Parents for Public Education will continue to support the teachers in their efforts to improve and build our education system to create positive and productive changes for the future for our education system that benefit our children.
In the words of Martin Luther King: “One has not only a legal but a moral responsibility to obey just laws. Conversely, one has a moral responsibility to disobey unjust laws.”
Larry Haiven and Stacey Rudderham
Nova Scotia Parents for Public Education