School buses are seen in the parking lot of a hockey arena in Dartmouth on Wednesday, July 22, 2020. — Photo: Zane Woodford

The president of the Nova Scotia Teachers Union says an email message sent to all staff who work for the Chignecto Central Regional Centre for Education (CCRCE) is an attempt to muzzle concerns raised by teachers and other staff about safely returning to school. 

The Chignecto Central area covers 67 schools from Elmsdale north to Truro and west to Amherst. The memo sent by Jessi Taggart, the director of Human Resources Services, acknowledges administrators don’t yet have all the answers but encourages staff to use a newly created internal email account to voice questions or concerns about the Back to School plan. Speaking directly with a supervisor or union representative is also recommended. 

What is not “appropriate” — according to the paragraphs below contained in the August 20 email — is for teachers, custodians, bus drivers, educational assistants, and other staff to take their issues to their elected representatives. 

Staff members should not be contacting the Minister of Education, the Premier of Nova Scotia and other government officials with their concerns as staff members. This is not an appropriate way to voice concerns about returning to work,” stated the email signed by Jessi Taggart, director of Human Resources Services for CCRCE.

 In addition, we ask that you please be mindful of your communications outside of work and consider how comments made by employees can be perceived by others. In our collective efforts to effectively support our communities and serve the needs of students, we share a responsibility to allay fears and instill public confidence. Staff are encouraged to ask questions, but should avoid situations where they could be in conflict of interest with their employer, such as during public meetings and when posting or sharing social media posts.

NSTU responds

Not surprisingly, the president of the Nova Scotia Teachers Union (NSTU) issued a email to members calling out the CCRCE memo as an unacceptable limit on the ability of workers to raise concerns. 

NSTU president Paul Wozney noted that since the McNeil government eliminated elected school trustees (the Acadian school board being the only exception), all the authority to respond to concerns within the education system rests with the Education minister.

“The law says the Minister is the person that you take your concerns to and now the CCRCE is saying, ‘don’t talk to that person’,” Wozney told the Halifax Examiner when we approached him about the email. “So it’s very concerning that staffs’ rights as citizens are being trampled and being silenced by an employer at a time when teachers aren’t just asking questions as staff members but they are also asking questions as parents.”

Wozney said teachers under contract do owe a duty of loyalty to their employer and must be conscious of conducting themselves in a respectful and professional way in their communications with elected officials but “any teacher has the right to communicate with their MLA, the Education Minister, or the Premier.”

The Examiner asked the CCRCE for a comment or an explanation for the controversial email sent to all staff last week. Here’s the response from CCRCE communications officer Jennifer Rodgers yesterday:

The intent of the memo was to bring attention to our staff members of the established channels for workplace issues and operational questions related to the Back to School Planning. We want to receive feedback from our staff members so that we can hear their questions and work through any concerns together. When these operational style questions are only shared external of our organization, we cannot help provide a timely response to our staff members.

As citizens of Nova Scotia, our employees have the right to contact elected officials with their concerns about education. Specific concerns our staff members have as employees should be directed to CCRCE.”

The response from CCRCE acknowledges the original email was wrong to suggest staff couldn’t raise concerns with elected representatives. Rodgers did not address a separate question of whether the email sent out by the human resources director was authorized by the CCRCE’s regional executive-director, Gary Adams.

Teachers suggest a health audit

The NSTU has been vocal about the need to reduce class sizes to meet the two metre standard for physical distancing as well as improving ventilation and ensuring schools have enough soap and water so kids can wash their hands more frequently. All these measures have been identified by Chief Medical Officer of Health Dr. Robert Strang as key components to prevent infection. 

The difficulty is in the details…how many sinks are in a school? Where do portable hand-washing stations need to be set up? Who cleans up after kids eat lunch at their desks? If a room has no windows, are fans a good or bad idea? Are there enough substitutes on deck if teachers need to stay home to look after their own kids?

All this planning falls to the individual schools with guidance from the Regional Centres for Education. They’re working hard to resolve these issues. Yesterday, the NSTU issued a news release suggesting schools should provide parents with “a health audit” of each classroom prior to September 8. The check-list includes: the number of students in the class, the size or dimensions of the classroom, the amount of distance between students, the type of ventilation, and where children will wash their hands with soap and water.

It’s hard to imagine parents will receive that considering the work school administrators must do in the next two weeks to prepare for the arrival of 120,000 public school students. School administrators are asking staff and parents to be patient while they work through a new situation. NSTU president Wozney says teachers support returning to school but doing it safely will involve more than opening windows and providing hand sanitizer. 

A report in the Toronto Star this morning suggests the Prime Minister is about to announce $2 billion to be shared among provinces to assist governments with the re-opening of schools. It’s unclear how more money will help but maybe it will buy more masks or more sinks or more people to help students get the best education they can. 


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Jennifer Henderson

Jennifer Henderson is a freelance journalist and retired CBC News reporter.

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4 Comments

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  1. The wording of the directive, prefaced as it is with the pigeon-holing of responses from those employed by the Regional Centres for Education/EECD, is not at all new. Neither is the encouragement to keep commentary internal.

  2. As a former school administrator I believe teachers and school administrators need time in the building to work through what is needed to keep everyone in the building safe while implementing systems that enhance student learning. We need to hear their voices.
    Schools should reopen once the experts -teachers as school admin – feel they are ready. Likely mid-September would be the earliest some students should return to school ad it should be done in waves rather than everyone at once.
    Information on students as transmitters of COVID 19 is changing daily. If it is important to rely on the science in all other situations it is important in schools. Public Health knows public health. Teachers know schools. It should be a collaborative effort creating the best possible scenario so that once opened schools will remain open rather than experience abrupt closures. That said, Closure Plans should also be in place.

    1. https://www.jpeds.com/article/S0022-3476(20)31023-4/fulltext

      Limiting the spread of SARS-CoV-2 infections in children is of particular concern as schools plan for re-opening. Our findings suggest that it would be ineffective to rely on symptoms or temperature monitoring to identify SARS-CoV-2 infection. Instead, infection control measures should minimize the possibility of viral spread, with focus on strategies including social distancing precautions, mask use, and/or remote learning. Moreover, schools could screen all students for SARS-CoV-2 infection and establish routine screening protocols. Without infection control measures such as these, there is significant risk that the pandemic will persist, and children could carry the virus into the home, exposing adults who are at higher risk of developing severe disease. This risk is particularly high in lower income communities where household size may be larger with multi-generational co-habitation and greater housing density. These recommendations contradict previous reports from the initial phase of the pandemic, which found children to be less likely to be the index case for viral transmission within a household(23).

  3. “In our collective efforts to effectively support our communities and serve the needs of students, we share a responsibility to allay fears and instill public confidence”

    Suggesting teachers also endorse a plan that is flawed. Classic.