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Decision coming on school closure extension in Nova Scotia amid coronavirus pandemic

Future of N.S. school closures unclear
As provinces across the country look at what easing restrictions looks like, may are also considering how or when they'll get students back to school. Alicia Draus reports.

For over a month, students in Nova Scotia have been out of the classroom. Last month as students headed into March break, there was uncertainty over if they would head back into the classroom following the week off as concerns grew over the coronavirus.

The province decided to extend the break by two weeks, and then at the end of March, the decision was made to keep kids out of school until May 1.

As that date draws nearer, questions remain over what happens next.

READ MORE: Nova Scotia schools to be closed until May 1

“The uncertainty is really stressful,” said Paul Wozney, president of the Nova Scotia Teachers Union.

The Department of Education has said a decision about the status of schools and licensed daycares will be made in the coming days.

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“A decision will be made with the advice of public health,” the department said in a statement.

Across the country, each province is taking its own approach. Early on, New Brunswick cancelled classes for the remainder of the year, while Quebec is planning to open elementary schools in mid-May.

READ MORE: Are school closures effective in stopping COVID-19? Researchers aren’t sure

In Nova Scotia, many parents say they wouldn’t feel comfortable sending their kids back in May.

“It’d be great to see no cases, have an extended period of no cases before I would probably feel comfortable sending my children at least back into a condensed environment where there are multiple children,” said parent of three Sarah Oakley.

But even if schools do reopen this year, it will take some adjustments.

“What school looks like if physical bodies go back to school isn’t going to be the same. We’re not just going to go back like we always have,” said Wozney.

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Wozney added that the union doesn’t know exactly what the return to class will look like, but will work with public health officials if and when the time comes.

Meanwhile, as schools remain closed, there are ongoing challenges in providing education to students, especially those without internet access. The province has taken to sending out learning packages for elementary school students through flyer delivery, but that solution doesn’t address the needs of high school students.

“Given the wide range of courses available to students in high school, there’s no way to put a flyer pack to high school students,” said Wozney.

Nova Scotia teachers adapting to at-home learning
Nova Scotia teachers adapting to at-home learning

But teachers and school staff are doing what they can to accommodate students. In some cases, schools are creating their own packages or allowing students to pick up learning material from the school, while others are creating digital packages on USB sticks. In some cases, school staff themselves are delivering materials to students in need.

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But Wozney says the COVID-19 pandemic is creating its own set of challenges beyond making sure students have access to learning material.

Many high school students work part-time and as some families struggle with unemployment, students are stepping up with their part-time jobs to work full-time hours to help support their families.

“They’re able to log 40-, 50-, 60-hour work weeks to keep their families afloat right now and of course you can’t do your homework when you’re at work 60 hours a week,” said Wozney.

“So teachers are recognizing that there are a lot of families in a hard way right now and trying to find ways to stay engaged and connected to students while respecting dynamics of life at home.”