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February 3, 2017

The message below was shared today with Education students at the Mount. 

Dear students,

The situation we find ourselves in is a very difficult one all around. Emotions are running high, stressors are significant – things are very charged. With the uncertainty surrounding your practicum right now, we know that this is a very difficult time for you and we sympathize sincerely.

The five Presidents of the NS universities with Education programs are writing their students to share some additional context regarding the news of our current legal action in support of your practicums.

First of all, we want to make clear that we deeply respect all of our Education graduates and Nova Scotia’s teachers. We understand entirely Nova Scotia teachers’ commitment to doing what’s in the best interest of their students. And we hope that they’ll understand that we hold the same commitment to you.

Our second-year BEd students are at risk of not graduating and not completing the required number of practicum weeks for teacher certification. While we are prepared to change our degree requirements to help these students, we have no authority to change the number of weeks required for teacher certification – in Nova Scotia, in other provinces and internationally. We also appreciate that not all of our students are from Nova Scotia, nor do you all plan to work in Nova Scotia – some of you have employment options in other jurisdictions, which could also be in jeopardy.

We know Nova Scotia’s current teachers play an important part in helping educate future teachers, and we sincerely value that contribution. Section 31 of the Education Act reflects and protects the value of this important experience. Unfortunately, the current directive by the NSTU to not accept student teachers is in violation of that law. In short, we are specifically challenging one directive of the work-to-rule action in support of you, our Education students whose careers are at stake.

We’ve been asked to consider alternate approaches to placements. On the surface, private school and out-of-province placements sound like easy and obvious solutions. But they are not. Six hundred Education students across Nova Scotia are affected by this situation. There are not nearly enough local private school placements to accommodate this many students. And sending students to other provinces is far more complicated than it sounds. First of all, there are university Education programs in those provinces and student teachers already in many of those classrooms. As well, there are curriculum and external supervisory requirements that would have to be met. Furthermore, students forced from Nova Scotia to other provinces would experience financial hardship and have family situations disrupted – some of our students are single mothers with children in school here, many are in apartment leases, and dozens have part-time employment that they cannot abandon. As it stands, some of our students will have to scramble to find a place to live in Halifax (and elsewhere) if their practicums run into May or June – for many their lease terms end on April 30. 

We respect the collective bargaining rights of the NSTU and indeed all unions, including those representing our own faculty and staff. We are simply seeking a change of course on one work-to-rule directive, and taking the only means remaining to us. Legal action was our last resort. 

We were asked by the NSTU to submit contingency plans and report on what has transpired in other jurisdictions on this particular directive. We answered the request for contingency plans on January 9th and received no response. When we explored other jurisdictions – like Ontario, where work-to-rule was in place for many months – we found that student practicums proceeded under work-to-rule action. The Deans/Directors of Education and Presidents at the five affected universities have made many attempts to meet with the union (starting in early December), but we have not yet been granted a meeting. We don’t like corresponding through the media – an exchange of press releases is far less effective than a direct dialogue.

We value our students past and present. And we appreciate entirely the difficult times Nova Scotia teachers find themselves in and we hope for a positive resolution soon. We also hope that their future colleagues (our current Education students) can avoid having lives disrupted (financially and beyond) by being allowed to stand alongside your future union colleagues in the classroom as soon as possible.

Sincerely,

Ramona Lumpkin, CM, PhD
President and Vice-Chancellor
Mount Saint Vincent University