Education and Early Childhood Development Minister Dominic Cardy says concerns among psychologists about a bill he introduced in the legislature last week are "rubbish" and "flat-out false."
The College of Psychologists of New Brunswick says the legislation will lead to unqualified teachers conducting the equivalent of psychologist assessments of students and calls that "a significant risk to the public."
But Cardy shot back Monday afternoon, saying teachers will not be diagnosing students and calling the college an obstacle to addressing a shortage of psychologists in the school system.
"They were invited to be part of the team to come up with a solution and they declined. That's on them," Cardy told reporters, using his now-trademark combative approach.
"I don't want to see kids waiting for this assessment for months or years. If it's recommended, that means they need it. If they need it, they need it fast. If they need it fast, it's government's job to deliver. And that's what I'm going to do."
The bill, introduced last Wednesday, would let teachers with masters degrees and training approved by the province administer a test to develop a personalized learning plan for a student.
Vacant positions an issue of pay, college says
The college said in an open letter that it stands "in strong opposition" to the legislation.
"When done incorrectly, misdiagnosis or missed diagnosis can result in inappropriate medical, educational, or psychological interventions, negatively impact a child's cognitive, academic, social, and emotional development, and leave families in turmoil."
College executive director Mandy McLean said Cardy is trying to address concerns about mental health without being willing to raise the pay of school psychologists enough to fill vacant positions creating a shortage.
"The education minister sees an opportunity to fill that gap with teachers doing those assessments," she says. "They're using this as the filler."
Cardy rejected that argument. He said the bill will allow 25 resource teachers to develop learning plans, taking that work off the plates of psychologists who will be able to focus on mental health challenges.
For teachers, "this is not about diagnosis," he said. "This is not about taking the work of psychologists."
McLean said the college was invited last Tuesday to a meeting with officials scheduled for two days later. But between the invitation and the meeting date, Cardy introduced the bill, she said.
Cardy said it wasn't true that he'd refused to consult. He said college registrar Jacques Richard was at a meeting with him last Nov. 30 when the issue came up.
"That's always my style, to consult on things. There's nothing to hide here," he said.
"Of all the weak lines of attack to take in pursuit of trying to derail a piece of legislation to help New Brunswick's children, I thought that was a pretty weak one."
Richard said he was at the Nov. 30 "but we were not told of the plan to allow some teachers to practice the scope of psychology" and Cardy's bill "was never mentioned."
Cardy also accused the college of contributing to the shortage of school psychologists by raising the requirements for the positions from a masters degree to a doctoral degree.
"This was a fairly self-interested move on behalf of the college to bump up the salaries of their members," he said.
Cardy said only eight of 36 psychologist positions in the anglophone school sector are now filled. In the francophone sector, he said there are 21 psychologists, three psychometricians filling positions and 14 vacancies.
NBTA not consulted on bill, president says
New Brunswick Teachers Association president Rick Cuming said in a statement that while the NBTA knew the province "was considering alternatives to deal with the shortage of school psychologists, we didn't know the specifics."
Cardy said that was also untrue and that teachers were consulted.
In 2019, the Canadian Psychological Association published a position paper opposing non-certified, non-regulated people administering psychological tests.
"The risks associated with unregulated access to psychological tests and improper test use by unqualified practitioners are real, significant, and not infrequent," it said.
In one case, an "unqualified health provider" got access to test results and interpreted them as showing a brain injury, "resulting in inappropriate and costly recommendations," the association said.
In another case the association said special needs children were excluded from needed treatment because a health administrator "improperly used" test scores.