Cherie Abriel, the 2nd vice-president of the Nova Scotia Teachers Union provincial executive, addresses a crowd of teachers and other supporters while 20 selected teachers from the Chignecto-Central Regional School Board met with Education Minister Zach Churchill. Submitted photo

TRURO – While 20 selected teachers from the Chignecto-Central Regional School Board met with the education minister Monday afternoon, even more rallied outside the school where they were meeting.

Cherie Abriel, a current junior high school teacher with 29 years in the education system, was one to speak at the rally outside the Truro Junior High School, where Zach Churchill talked to those 20 teachers about the Glaze Report.

“This is the government’s version of consultation,” said Abriel, the 2nd vice-president of the Nova Scotia Teachers Union provincial executive. “It’s not true consultation. We’re happy he’s meeting with teachers but he needs to sit down and the premier needs to sit down and meet with Nova Scotia teachers and do true consultation before rushing through any legislation.”

Churchill announced recently 11 of the 22 recommendations in the Glaze Report would be implemented right away, causing members of the teachers union to vote for illegal strike action.

On Monday, just prior to Churchill’s meeting and the coinciding rally, the union president met with Premier Stephen McNeil about their concerns. As news spread about those talks between the union and government continuing, Abriel said it gave teachers some hope.

But, she said, “talks won’t mean anything if this government is going to go ahead with plans to legislate. There is absolutely no need to legislate.”

Abriel said the changes the government is making following the Glaze Report won’t make classroom conditions better, which is what teachers have been advocating for over the past two years.

“We need changes to provide services for our students. We need services for our special needs students, we need services for English as an additional language. We need programming, we need specialists. Those are the sorts of changes we need. None of the changes in the Glaze Report are going to bring those changes to our schools or our students,” she said.

Instead, those changes will bring “chaos and uncertainty to our schools,” which is not what teachers want.

“We need this government to press pause and to consult, and have meaningful consultation with us before imposing any changes.”

As a teacher, Abriel said the changes recommended in the report won’t bring meaningful change to students in the classroom, which is her biggest concern.

“I’m also concerned it’s causing a division within our schools by separating teachers from administration so that principals and vice-principals will become little more than managers,” she said. “What we need from our principals is that they’re teachers first. They’re teachers with teaching experience that can help us access services for our students, act as a bridge for teachers and parents, and help us develop programming for those students. If a principal and vice-principal do not have that background, they’re not going to be able to assist us in those ways making our school community and climate a healthier environment for our students.”

Following Churchill’s announcement that those recommendations would be in place immediately – one of which also dissolves seven of the regional school boards – the teachers union held a strike vote. Of the 9,300 teachers in the province, 93 per cent participated in the vote, with more than 82 per cent voting in favour of action. That action will go against their current contract, meaning any action taken will be illegal action.

“Those numbers show how strongly teachers feel about their students and about the education system, and protecting the education system from further attacks by this government. We went through a very difficult time last year with the government attacking us, and they’re pushing through legislation that is not going to bring positive changes for our students and we need them to stop, press pause, and consult with parents and teachers of Nova Scotia,” said Abriel.

During the rally, which lasted about 45 minutes, representatives of other unions attended, showing their support, which Abriel was pleased to note.

“I think the teachers of Nova Scotia have been doing a tremendous job of getting out and having one conversation at a time with Nova Scotians, trying to educate Nova Scotians as to the dangers of this Glaze Report and the chaos it’s going to wreak on our schools, and the negative impact it’s going to have on our students,” she said.

“We need everyone to really pay attention to what this government is doing. They have an agenda in mind and it’s not an agenda of reforming education or making education better. They’re dividing Nova Scotians from each other, and Nova Scotia is a place that has a lot of heart. There’s a lot of caring in our communities and our schools are the heart of those communities. We need to make sure we continue to keep them places that are helping students.”