Nova Scotia announced on Wednesday that public school students across the province will return to class on Tuesday, Sept 8.
According to the province, the back to school plan is supported by public health, the IWK Health Centre and education partners.
“Children need safe and supportive learning environments and that means being back in school with their peers,” said Zach Churchill, Minister of Education and Childhood Development, at the press briefing.
“Our plan supports the full, safe return of students and staff, while allowing us to adapt how students will learn if anything changes.”
The plan outlines public health guidelines and enhanced safety measures for students and staff. It also includes measures to enhance student learning.
Dr. Robert Strang, chief medical officer of health, who was also at the press briefing said that the province’s current epidemiology shows that virus activity remains low in the province.
“Education leaders have developed a plan with appropriate public health measures for returning to the classroom,” said Strang. “I’m comfortable with our schools reopening and my public health team and I will continue to work with education leaders to keep our students, teachers and other school staff safe.”
In the meantime, government said it has invested $4 million to secure 14,000 computers to support student learning for those with limited or no access to technology.
In a statement, the province said that in September, students, families and staff can expect the following:
- Regional Centres for Education and the Conseil Scolaire Acadien provincial will have plans to support enhanced cleaning, physical distancing and situations specific to schools in their area.
- Classrooms to be reorganized to increase spacing.
- Treating a class as a bubble, to minimize contact with other students.
- Enhanced cleaning on school buses. All school bus riders and drivers will need to wear a mask.
- All staff and students in high school will be required to wear a mask in school spaces where social distancing is not possible, for example hallways and common areas. Students and staff do not have to wear a mask in class, unless they want to, or if they are working with a student whose individual program plan requires a mask be worn.
- Regular handwashing or hand sanitizing by students and staff before entering school for classes and throughout the day.
- In-school assemblies and other large gatherings will not be permitted.
- Cafeterias and school food programs will deliver food to students. Students will eat lunch at their desks.
- Students will have the opportunity to engage in all subject areas, although some subject areas may look different.
Following the announcement of the learning plan, the NDP released a statement saying that the plan lacks clarity, especially for working parents if schools have to revert to a blended or at-home model.
“During the first wave of COVID-19, thousands of parents struggled to manage working and supporting their children’s at-home learning. While many people were working from home, thousands of people were either laid off or had their hours cut, adding financial burden on top of the struggles of full-time at-home learning,” said NDP Leader Gary Burrill, in a press release.
“We know COVID-19 requires us to be flexible, but the government must also be thoughtful and ensure that plans consider all aspects. Today’s plan does not address what supports will be available for working parents to manage another full-time at-home learning period successfully,” he added.
Schools initially closed on March 16 and at-home learning concluded on June 5.
“Parents want to be able to send their children back to school safely. Today’s announcement, while late, is welcome. I’m glad that our recommendations around prioritizing students with diverse abilities and the need for technology were adopted,” said NDP Education spokesperson Claudia Chender.
“But parents are also worried about what will happen if we move to a blended or at-home model, what before- and after-school care will look like, and what additional staff and resources will be in place to ensure the plan can be a success.”
The NDP said it has called for the creation of an economic recovery task force to plan all aspects of the next phase of response to COVID-19. This would mean “reopening plans would consider all aspects of what returning to work and school means for the people of Nova Scotia.”
According to Dr. Andrew Lynk, chief of pediatrics at the IWK Health Centre, pediatricians across the province agree with the government’s plan.
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During the Pandemic, our Provincial Pediatric Advisory Group will continue to review worldwide evidence and work with parents, education and public health leaders to ensure we reduce COVID risks and promote student well-being,said Lynk.