HALIFAX: Five universities across Nova Scotia, including StFX and Université Sainte-Anne, launched legal action yesterday against the Nova Scotia Teachers Union (NSTU) in the Supreme Court of Nova Scotia.

The five universities seek a declaration that the NSTU’s work-to-rule job action and its directive that “teachers will not accept or supervise student teachers, fill out assessments from external agencies unless required by law…” violates Section 31 of the Education Act.

Section 31 requires teachers to admit student teachers to school classrooms, and, supervise and evaluate their required teacher practicum.

A separate motion was filed seeking an emergency injunction to alleviate irreparable harm to student teachers caused by the work-to-rule job action, so they can commence their teacher practicum as soon as possible, and to address the irreparable harm being done to the reputation of the affected universities and their respective education programs, according a press release from the universities.

Nearly 600 education students across the five universities are directly affected by the NSTU’s directive.

Dr. Kent MacDonald

Dr. Kent MacDonald, president and vice-chancellor, StFX, spoke on behalf of the affected universities.

“The urgency of this situation required the matter be placed before the Supreme Court as the best way to stand up for students and protect their interests. If the job action continues, nearly 300 of our students will not graduate on time, causing harm and risk to their future careers.

“I know all my colleagues are deeply concerned about the seriousness of this issue and its potential long-term impacts on our students and universities. We have asked the court for an early hearing date and hope that an emergency injunction will be granted so that education students may begin their teacher practicum without further delay. The interests of our students must be recognized and acted upon.”

The five affected universities claim they reached out to the Nova Scotia Government and the NSTU in December seeking a remedy to this urgent matter and corresponded with NSTU officials on December 22, January 9 and 13 seeking either an immediate face-to-face meeting or teleconference call with university presidents to resolve this situation. The universities said that the NSTU did not respond favourably to this request.

University leaders added they consistently emphasized with NSTU officials that the timely resolution of the situation was critical to negating any potential hardship for education students, including not completing program criteria required for graduation in 2017, achieving teacher certification and future professional standing.