Arbitrator again tells Education Department to issue special teaching certificates

An arbitrator has once again told Nova Scotia's education minister and his department that they must issue special teaching certificates to school psychologists, speech language pathologists and social workers.

Eric Sloan issued the supplementary award following a hearing Tuesday with lawyers for the Education Department and Nova Scotia Teachers Union.

The union was calling for aspects of Sloan's ruling from last month to be implemented immediately, while the government argued it made sense to wait because it plans to seek a judicial review of the award, which would also require a stay of the award.

A stay might be granted, but it hasn't happened yet, Sloan writes.

"It would be inappropriate to act as if the employer's mere announcement that it plans to see such a stay sometime in the near future is sufficient to create a de facto stay," he wrote.

Details of supplementary award

Still, given the government's intentions, Sloan said he's "hesitant to order steps to be taken that are not easily reversed."

Ultimately, Sloan ordered that the government resume making available information about the special certificates, issuing them and letting any specialist without one know they must apply for a special certificate, something that until this school year was required before a specialist could work in a school.

"There is little to be lost, and much to be gained, by getting on with this process" said Sloan.

He said it's reasonable for specialists to immediately get day-to-day benefits, such as daily schedules and sick leave that's in line with the applicable collective agreements, but he did not see any urgency in sorting out questions related to pension and insurance coverage.

"I am concerned that if some or all of the specialists are switched from one set of coverages to another, the effect of a subsequent court-ordered stay will create chaos and confusion," he wrote.

"I believe it is not in the employees' interests that they face being potentially removed from the union pension and benefit plans and reverted to the insurance or pension plans under which they are currently covered."

Trying to improve student services

Sloan's initial order followed a challenge by the union of the government's decision to no longer require specialists to have a special teaching certificate to work in schools.

Although the decision effectively removed specialists from the NSTU, Education Minister Zach Churchill has said it was motivated by attempting to ensure students have access to special services when they need them, regardless of whether it's during the school year.

CBC

Churchill said the change resulted in an additional 300 students receiving specialist services last summer.

In a statement Wednesday, government officials said they're appealing the award because they don't believe it's in the best interest of students and families. The statement said the filing for judicial review and stay of the award would go in this week.

In an email to union members, teachers union president Paul Wozney said union officials are pleased with the ruling, but disappointed the additional proceedings are required.

"We will continue to pursue your case doggedly. As I've said repeatedly, the NSTU believes that collaboration and cooperation with [the Education Department] is essential. We remain open to exploring options for summer services with [the Education Department.]"

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