Nova Scotia Parents for Public Education (NSPFPE) was founded in the wake of the labour dispute between the provincial government and the Teachers Union in late 2016. Within a few weeks, over 18,000 Nova Scotian parents and grandparents had come together to support not only our teachers in their fight for justice, but also public education itself, which has long been under attack. Our social media presence and several town hall meetings show our support remains consistent almost five years on.
Along with the group Educators for Social Justice, we published the Manifesto (Agenda) for Progressive Public Education (https://nsadvocate.org/2020/01/14/a-manifesto-for-progressive-public-education/.)
In that document, we emphasize that in a society where socio-economic disparity is increasing and intergenerational socio-economic mobility is decreasing, or stagnant, public education has been one of the most powerful social programs directed at resisting these trends. Canada has one of the best public education systems in the world, and we must strengthen it as a program for social justice, and not roll back progress.
As Nova Scotia heads into a provincial election, our original concerns remain and several new ones have come to the fore. We urge all political parties to help us address these issues for the sake of our children and future generations.
A Deficit of Democracy
The democratic governance of our education system has been gutted. Except for the French system, (Conseil scolaire acadien provincial – CSAP,) elected school boards have been abolished. Regional Centres for Education have no formal public input. School advisory committees (SACs) are either moribund or function sporadically. CSAP continues to survive as a result of important constitutional guarantees of democratic minority language rights. We ask why are these democratic rights denied to English first-language speakers? Over the past few years, we have witnessed a strong tendency toward centralization within public education that now makes it seem that everything is run out of the provincial Department of Education.
Most of the other provinces still have elected school boards. New Brunswick eliminated elected school boards in 1997 but restored them four years later due to public pressure. Prince Edward Island abolished its English-language school board in 2015 — but is now bringing it back. Nova Scotia should do the same.
Lack of Transparency
The school authorities treat us like we’re not able to deal with facts and the truth. Here are just some of the problems of in withholding information in the past few years:
- Apparently there have been over 1000 cases of COVID infection in our schools; but the authorities have announced only a few, and have been less than transparent in their reporting.
- COVID-related school closures and openings have often been announced with very little warning
- It is very difficult, in most cases, to find out who, if anyone, sits on School Advisory Councils (SACs). A CBC investigation last December revealed that just a quarter of 300 Nova Scotia school websites had recent SAC meeting information.
- Very little information is available on the Provincial Advisory Council on Education (PACE). The poor quality of their website and of their agendas and minutes attest to that. Too often they merely repeat talking points from the department.
The Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives’ 2020 Report Card on Child and Family poverty reveals that:
- Between 1989 and 2018, child poverty rates decreased in every province and territory except Nova Scotia.
- The child poverty rate in 2018 was 24.6%, up from 24.2% in 2017 (a 1.7% increase).
- 41,370 is the number of children who were living in poverty in Nova Scotia in 2020.
- In 2020, 1 in 4 children in Nova Scotia lived in poverty. This number increases to 1 in 3 in the Cape Breton region.
It is well-established that poverty is strongly related to children’s success at school and that poor performance at school is strongly related to future poverty. Approaches to education that do not involve programs to reduce child poverty are questionable at best, wasteful at worst.
Police in Schools
With the murder of George Floyd and the growth of the Black Lives Matter movement, we are all looking at ways to de-fund or de-emphasize the role of police in our society and explore other options. Yet we know that many Nova Scotia schools still have a police presence attached to them. In Cape Breton Regional Municipality alone, School Liaison Officers are currently assigned to eight schools.
Research from the United States suggests that “in addition to increasing school-based referrals, ticketing and arrests, policing students for minor disciplinary infractions contributes to feelings of alienation and disengagement, distrust of authority and lower educational outcomes. And these collateral consequences are not experienced equitably.” Negative results are especially felt by students of color, those with disabilities, and gender non-conforming students and LGBTQ2S+ youth.
With recent re-assignments and re-allocations (reductions) in teacher coverage in our high schools, the police presence may actually become more pronounced..
The Ottawa Carleton District School Board (OCDSB) recently cut ties with police. They were responding to a social justice group, Asilu, consisting of current and former Ottawa high school students who said police presence makes students of colour and those who are “gender-oppressed” feel “scared and anxious.”
Given the abolition of school boards in our province, we must ask our educational authorities, “What are you doing about this?”
For more information, contact Stacey Rudderham.
NOVA SCOTIA PARENTS FOR PUBLIC EDUCATION