It was a long day of marching and chanting on Monday as parents, students and community members protested students being locked out of schools, while teachers sat in empty classrooms.
The day started with hundreds gathering outside Province House for a 9 a.m. rally. Speakers ranged from children in Grade 1 to the president of the Nova Scotia Teachers Union, Liette Doucet.
“We wanted to show that we’re not going to put these days off … to waste,” Kenzi Donnelly, the organizer of the rally said in an interview. “We’re going to keep fighting for our education and fighting for our teachers’ rights.”
Donnelly founded the Facebook group Students for Teachers to show support. She is a Grade 12 student at Prince Andrew High School in Dartmouth.
Students were told Saturday they were not allowed to attend school on Monday, when the Nova Scotia Teachers Union (NSTU) was set to begin its work-to-rule action. The government was supposed to be introducing new legislation that would impose a contract on teachers on Monday.
“I don’t want anybody in this province, in this country, in the world, to say that youth are apathetic, that youth don’t care about these issues,” Donnelly said, addressing the crowd. “They will hear us and we will not back down until they do so.”
The new bill was not introduced. Education Minister Karen Casey later said that students will go back to school on Tuesday.
Later in the day, hundreds of parents, students and teachers met at Grand Parade for a separate rally organized by Nova Scotia Parents for Teachers. They then marched to Province House to show their continued support for NSTU members.
Both parents and teachers expressed frustration that the government backtracked after announcing the work-to-rule job action was unsafe.
Gavin Fridell is a parent to a 5-year-old and a 7-year-old who both stayed home with a babysitter. He said Casey’s announcement that kids will return to school “is really only one step in the game.”
“The next step is to get the government to properly bargain collectively with the teachers and to not impose back-to-work legislation,” Fridell said. “I think it exposes how ridiculous this has all been. How could school have been dangerous today and safe tomorrow?”
Pat Hennigar, a recently retired educational program assistant from Astral Drive Elementary School, attended the rally at Grand Parade.
“It just seemed like a big lie to me,” she said about the reasons behind the student lockout. “It just seemed to me that there was an awful lot of misrepresentation by the government.”
People also said that due to cuts in government funding over the years, the classroom is already arguably an unsafe environment.
Vicky Taylor stood with her daughter at the front of the crowd at Grand Parade. Her daughter is in Grade 5 at St. Catherine’s Elementary and is diagnosed with ADHD, anxiety and emotion regulation issues. Taylor supports the teachers because she said they “have been phenomenal” with her daughter.
“They went the extra mile to make sure she felt safe, that she felt comfortable in the classroom,” Taylor said.
NSTU president Liette Doucet spoke at the afternoon rally before supporters marched to Province House.
“Shame on this government for not listening to teachers and parents,” Doucet said to the crowd at Grand Parade.
Parents and teachers said shelving the bill was a small success, and people must continue putting pressure on the government to return to the bargaining table.
“This campaign does not end today because Minister Casey says they (students) can go back to school,” Trish Keeping, organizer of the second rally, told the crowd. “We will not accept anything less than a fair deal for the teachers and our children.”
Petitions were circulating at both rallies and online calling for Education Minister Karen Casey and Premier Stephen McNeil to resign.