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Advocates call for an early ‘window’ into Nova Scotia’s plan for schools

Advocates call for an early ‘window’ into Nova Scotia’s plan for schools
Nova Scotia’s Department of Education has promised parents and teachers that the plan for returning to school in the fall will be released by the end of the month.

Parents, teachers and advocates hoping for a sneak peak into Nova Scotia’s plan for schools in the fall will be disappointed.

On Thursday, the Education Department confirmed there will be no early release of details on what they can expect for their children in September — from online learning to classroom sizes and bus schedules.

In an emailed statement, spokesperson Gary Andrea repeated the ministry’s commitment to release an outline at the end of July. He declined to answer Global News’s request for a detailed list of the work that remains to be done.

READ MORE: Nova Scotia’s plan for students to return to school coming in late July — Centres for Education

“I can tell you that we know the best place for our students is in the classroom and we are working on a plan with our educational partners to see if we can do it safely,” said Andrea.

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“We know people are anxious and we are taking our time to evaluate critical feedback from those who lived through and experienced at-home learning.”

On Sunday, the Chignecto Regional Centre for Education wrapped up an online survey about its students’ experience with online learning in an effort to identify practices that may work in September. Nearly 9,000 students submitted feedback that is currently being analyzed, and the Education Department said it has received roughly 22,000 submissions from parents across the province.

N.S. official opposition parts releases plan for next school year
N.S. official opposition parts releases plan for next school year

READ MORE: Nova Scotia students, parents left wondering what September will bring

Paul Wozney, president of the Nova Scotia Teachers Union, said it’s generally understood that the province will go in one of three directions in the fall: back to classrooms, at home for remote learning, or some combination of both.

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He’s privy to some of the “draft details” of the plan underway but said he’s unable to release that to the public and it’s the employer’s responsibility to inform the teachers.

“I think we’re at a point where there’s enough of the plan in place that you could tell people sort of the broad strokes or at least the 10,000-foot view,” Wozney told Global News.

“Ideally, this summer would have been a time for people to unplug, take a breath, gather themselves…I’m just worried about the mental stress of the last four months carrying forward all throughout the summer and we start the school year in a place of exhaustion and frustration.”

READ MORE: N.S. mother shares ‘overwhelming’ experience of caring for kids with autism during COVID-19

Teachers need time to plan lessons, parents need time to plan childcare, and students need time to prepare themselves, said Claudia Chender, NDP MLA for Dartmouth South.

She said Nova Scotians understand that planning for a pandemic is complex and these circumstances are “unprecedented,” but there’s no reason the province couldn’t provide a draft.

“We know the Department of Education is working on a plan, we’ve been told that. Why can’t we have a window? We need more transparency,” she said.

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“We need to have some understanding… as it is, families are just left in the dark and they’re making really difficult decisions without the information they need to make them properly.”

Grade 7 students to receive vaccinations in July and August
Grade 7 students to receive vaccinations in July and August

READ MORE: Shift to online learning due to COVID-19 requires rethink of teaching — experts

Dustin LindenSmith, a former student advisory council chair and father to three children, said he’s concerned about the Education Department’s communication as well. Two of his children will be returning to school in the fall and they’re anxious to know what’s coming.

“One of them is maybe a little more anxious than the other and one of them wants to go back more than the other one does,” he told Global News from his home in Dartmouth.

“They think about it a lot, and I think to really get used to the idea, I feel like — and I’m pulling a number out of the air here — but you’d think they’d need at least two or three weeks to mull it over and get used to what’s going to be required of them.”

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He said as a parent, he wants to know how children will be kept safe on buses and in classrooms, and that teachers and principals are “being engaged right away” on the plan. It’s important to note, he added, that being kept in the dark has a disproportionate effect on parents of young children, single parents, and rural, lower-income and racialized communities.