Keep Hate Out of Our Schools

A Statement from Educators for Social Justice – Nova Scotia

During election season, teachers of all levels seize the opportunity to learn about politics. 

Many students have the opportunity to hear first-hand from politicians running to represent them in Parliament. More than a million students across the country will participate in the Student Vote program, and many will host candidates’ forums in their schools.

Regrettably, in this election cycle some politicians are spreading particularly hateful messages regarding immigrants, refugees, LBGT people, and others, and promoting climate-change denial. In Nova Scotia, the People’s Party of Canada (PPC) and the National Citizens’ Alliance (NCA) are running candidates in several ridings. Both parties use rhetoric ranging from explicit hatred to more subtle but familiar “dog-whistle” phrases targeting marginalized groups. 

These candidates should not be invited into our schools. It is incumbent upon us as educators in a public system not to provide platforms where these politicians can promote harm to our students and their families. 

Some well-meaning observers might ask “but what about free speech?” 

Free speech does not mean that anyone may say anything at any time. Institutions like public schools have the responsibility to filter out speech that may incite discrimination and violence, or that is based in faulty or misleading pseudoscience. 

Our centres for education (formerly school boards) have anti-discrimination policies such as this one. All schools in the province are subject to the provincial Guidelines for Supporting Transgender and Gender Non-Conforming Students

It’s one thing for politicians to express their hateful and unscientific views online, or out in the broader political world. It’s another thing for our public schools to legitimize them by inviting them to speak at assemblies of children.

We encourage teachers to explore the world of politics with their students, but to be mindful of what information we choose to share – just as we would expect of our students. 

Our students and their families – especially those from marginalized communities – trust us to create a safe and welcoming environment for all. This is not to be taken lightly.

EDIT (October 9th): Some principals have sent teachers a directive that “All candidates [a] district/riding must be invited” if any one candidate is invited. This is apparently coming from higher up. It’s disturbing that the Department of Education would decree this in this context, but teachers should know that the directive is out there (and that technically one could face discipline for not following what is apparently provincial policy).

Educators for Social Justice Support the Fight for 15

oooFight for Fifteen & Fairness Rally, October 2nd, 2018.

Educators see the effects of poverty first hand.

Every day, we teach students from homes which lack the basic necessities for a healthy, dignified life. The effects of poverty are many and varied: a lack of nutritious food; decreased access to health care services such as dental care or prescription drugs; constant stress and anxiety related to precarious finances; unsuitable housing; and more. All these factors eat away at the potential of learners in our classrooms. Through absolutely no fault of their own, students living in poverty are disadvantaged before they even reach the start gate.

Fighting child poverty means fighting family poverty. Children do not earn wages; their parents and guardians do. In Nova Scotia the median annual income for an individual is just under $32,000. Low-wage workers (those who make less than $15/hour) make up 32% of all working people. In households led by a single parent, 48% of children live below the poverty line. In all, nearly one in five children in Nova Scotia lives in poverty, a number that reaches one in three in the Cape Breton Regional Municipality.

This is why we endorse the Fight for 15 and Fairness campaign in Nova Scotia. The campaign calls for an immediate increase in the minimum wage to $15, along with other measures to improve workers’ security and well-being, such as paid sick leave, better access to maternity leave benefits, and “just cause” protection for all workers.

In general, teachers in the public sector enjoy all these benefits and see the impact they have on our lives. We want all Nova Scotians to benefit from this same security. In our own workplaces, there are workers such as educational program assistants (EPAs) who make wages that are barely enough for a single person to live on, and even some teachers, especially substitutes, feel the impact of precarious employment.

Of course, any improvement in wages and employment standards must be accompanied by an improvement in measures to protect those who, for whatever reason, cannot work. The elderly, disabled people, and others deserve a decent, dignified life as much as any active worker.

As well, a $15 hourly wage is by no means enough to guarantee a dignified life for earners. In 2015 the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives – Nova Scotia calculated that a “living wage” that would allow for a family in Halifax to cover all its basic needs with a bit left over for savings was $20.10 per hour, a figure which has certainly risen since.

A $15 minimum wage and improvements in labour standards are the least that our government can do to begin to give working people a leg up and lift themselves out of poverty. We call upon this government to act immediately.

Public Education: Social Justice Project or Job Training?


Please join our panel for a discussion on “Public Education: Social Justice Project or Job Training?” Our panel will feature:

– Erika Shaker, Director, Education Project and Editor, Our Schools, Ourselves, Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives

– Tina Roberts-Jeffers, Community Activist for Inclusive Education, Steering Committee, Nova Scotia Parents for Public Education

– Rachel Brickner, Department of Politics, Acadia University

– Pam Rogers, Researcher and Policy Analyst, Canadian Teachers’ Federation, former teacher, Halifax Regional School Board, member Educators for Social Justice

The event will take place Friday, September 28th from 7:00 – 9:00 p.m. at the Sobey Building, Saint Mary’s University, Room 255.

There is no attendance fee, but donations are welcome.

Sponsored by:
Educators for Social Justice
Nova Scotia Parents for Public Education
Saint Mary’s Department of Social Justice and Community Studies
Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives–Nova Scotia

The Facebook event can be found here.

Nova Scotia Educators wonder if Nova Scotia Progressive Conservatives support Doug Ford’s Education Policies

As Ontario premier Doug Ford speaks to the federal Conservative convention in Halifax tonight, Educators for Social Justice wonders if Nova Scotia Progressive Conservatives share his views on P-12 education policy.

Since taking office on June 29th, Ford has abruptly cancelled a curriculum-writing session for Ontario teachers on reconciliation with Indigenous peoples. Furthermore, he has ordered teachers to teach an outdated sex-ed curriculum written in 1998. This curriculum was created before social media and sexting existed, and makes barely any mention of LGBTQ people. This week, Ford set up a “snitch line” for parents to contact if their children’s teachers teach content from the newer, banned sex-ed curriculum.

Nova Scotia Progressive Conservative Party (NSPC) leadership candidates John Lohr, Tim Houston, Cecil Clarke, Elizabeth Smith-McCrossin and Julie Chaisson have all tweeted support for Doug Ford since his election victory and will presumably be in the audience applauding him tonight. However, none have mentioned how they feel about his policy decisions on education.

As the official opposition in Nova Scotia, it’s reasonable for NSPC candidates to state publicly whether they support Doug Ford’s positions on sex education, as well as education to support reconciliation with Indigenous peoples. Nova Scotians deserve to know what they could expect from a PC government.

Media: contact or 902 880 4714

Response to Article By Paul Bennett (July 7th, 2018 – Chronicle Herald) Regarding School-Based Specialists

I am concerned that you have published yet another opinion article by Paul Bennett that represents a one-sided perspective regarding the Department of Education and Early Childhood Development’s decision to alter the terms of contracts for school-based specialists.

What this opinion piece would have benefited from is perspective and input from a school-based specialist, such as a speech-language pathologist, school psychologist or school social worker. Since this opinion piece has neglected to do so with the goal of providing yet another outside opinion targeted at damaging the hard-working professionals of the NSTU, I would like to provide that perspective so that your readers can make an informed choice instead of being misled.

I am deeply concerned with a number of quotes from stakeholders taken out of context and applied to this opinion piece. For example, the direct quote from Jan Keddy, regarding “family centered practice”, used in this context, implies that school-based specialists do not follow the family-centered model of support, which is not the case. An author that quotes partial pieces from a statement in order to make his or her point is not following best practices for accurately quoting sources and may be doing so misleadingly. All school-based specialists are deeply engaged with family-centered approaches. During any given week, a speech-language pathologist will make contact with all families through home programming and communication through phone or email; parents attend therapy sessions and feedback meetings with school teams designed to ensure parent engagement is maximized. A school psychologist will be involved with parent communication to ensure strategies for support are able to be used at home, conducting demonstration sessions and engaging in frequent communication. A social worker will meet with families, attend meetings with family physicians and other specialists, and assist students in attending community settings and events. To imply that school-based specialists do not follow a family-centered approach shows the lack of knowledge this piece presents.

To further imply that school-based specialists do not work outside of school hours or during the summer is also false. School program planning meetings and parent meetings are almost always conducted outside of regular working hours to ensure all staff can be in attendance and to not take away from regular programming during the day. Specialists regularly work after hours to prepare materials, programming, update the records system, or write reports for parent meetings. Students are provided with home programming for summer months, with parents meeting with staff before hand to ensure demonstration and adherence to techniques. Most of our specialists participate in professional development over the summer months in order to keep their professional credentials up to date. Furthermore, outside agencies that provide these services do not treat students the entire year. For example, Nova Scotia Hearing and Speech Centers provide parent-training sessions that only run for a certain duration, and treatment blocks are pre-determined in length. It is not expected that these professionals treat the same students for the entire year, why would this be enforced on school-based specialists? Speech-language therapy can be taxing and students require breaks to practice their skills in outside, naturalistic environments. To suggest otherwise shows a lack of understanding by the author of this piece.

Creating a division between specialists in terms of those working full-year and those not will only break-down the flow of support for students. In the process, specialists will seek work elsewhere. One only has to look next door to New Brunswick to see what has happened when these changes were enforced on their school-based specialists – there is currently a lack of trained specialists in the province who have chosen to work elsewhere because of these imposed work conditions.  I question where Mr. Bennett has found data suggesting that there are “48” speech-language pathologists across the province serving school populations, when this is simply not the case. Perhaps he means 48 positions now not under the union, which may be likely. Or perhaps he meant “48 positions that have had job rights taken away from them and can expect overworked job conditions”. There is no mention of the current working conditions for specialists; with caseloads triple the recommended size, moving staff to 12 months will not alleviate these caseloads nor provide more service for students.

In summary, families should be aware that the impression being provided by consultants and the Department of Education and Early Childhood Development is not an accurate representation of the current situation. All specialists provide family-focused care; all specialists work outside of daily hours and over summer break; all specialists are overworked and have huge caseloads that are not manageable; initiatives to provide additional staff are not working due to the loss of staff because of job conditions. Students will not get better service with these changes; specialists will be further overworked and our most vulnerable populations will suffer.