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N.S. parents call for province to extend school closures until September

Elaine McGrath's son Julien was diagnosed with acute lymphoblastic leukemia in September 2018.
Elaine McGrath's son Julien was diagnosed with acute lymphoblastic leukemia in September 2018. Facebook/Elaine McGrath

Elaine McGrath says even if coronavirus safety measures are lifted, going back to school this year isn’t an option for her son, who’s battling cancer. 

“There’s no way to social distance and he’s already fighting a battle for his life,” said McGrath, from the Middle Musquodoboit area.

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Her 16-year-old son Julien was diagnosed with acute lymphoblastic leukemia in September 2018. Since then, he has been in and out of school while receiving treatment.

This February Julien was also diagnosed with respiratory syncytial virus (RSV) and has been home-bound schooling since then.

Living in Middle Musquodoboit, McGrath says she is happy with how their school has organized online learning. His teachers meet with him over video chat and quickly respond to his emails. 

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McGrath says Julien has recently recovered from RSV, but he is still immunocompromised. Because of that, he will not be going back to school until there are no cases in the province. She believes it is in everyone’s best interest to stay at home.

 “Putting anyone’s life in the line of fire is, to me, just not worth it.”

During Tuesday’s COVID-19 press briefing, Premier Stephen McNeil said schools in Nova Scotia will remain closed at least until the May long weekend.

The province said the decision to keep students at home will be reassessed leading up to Victoria Day, leaving the door open to a possible return.

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READ MORE: Nova Scotia extends school closures until at least May long weekend

Melanie Smiley, a mother of three, says she will not be sending her children to school this year, regardless of the province’s upcoming decision.

“I was shocked,” she says, “I was at least expecting them to announce until the end of May.”

Smiley has had an autoimmune disease for several years and her husband has Stage 4 kidney disease. The only time she leaves her house is to get weekly IVs at her nearby hospital. She says she is doing everything to stay isolated, so sending her kids to school is not an option.

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Smiley is also an executive director at Apple Tree Landing Family Education Centre in Canning, N.S. The centre is government-funded, and she fears they will have no choice if the province decides to open schools again.

“If we don’t open, we don’t know that we would be eligible for the funding we receive.”

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

The centre is licensed for 90 children, and has 20 staff members on board. With so many people in one building, Smiley says it won’t be easy to enforce safety regulations. 

Socializing is in children’s nature, she says. “Trying to expect them to social distance at such a young age is extremely challenging.”

Future of N.S. school closures unclear
Future of N.S. school closures unclear

Paul Wozney, president of the Nova Scotia Teachers Union (NSTU), says as of now, there is no indication that schools will reopen, so staff and parents should not have these concerns yet.

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“While I appreciate the alarm, there is no basis for it.”

He believes Nova Scotians worries have been sparked by Quebec’s decisions to start opening schools.

“If and when a return to school is best for Nova Scotia, we will work that out through dialogue and collaboration with the government,” Wozney said.

READ MORE: Coronavirus: What we know about Quebec’s plan to reopen elementary schools, daycares

Wozney says these decisions will rely on the public health authority when the time comes. Right now, the NSTU’s focus is supporting graduating students and providing feedback to parents and students. 

Even so, parents are concerned that no final decisions have been made.

Melanie Smiley still hopes schools close until September, not only for her family’s safety but to give staff enough time to prepare. “We need help with what kind of protocols to put in place. We need more time.”

Global News has reached out to the Nova Scotia Health Authority and is awaiting comment.