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Parents, students have mixed feelings about N.S. back-to-school plan

Parents, students have mixed feelings on Nova Scotia’s plan to return to school
Parents and students have mixed feelings about the plan to be back in school in September. While some are eager to get back in the classroom, others are wondering if it’s what is best for everyone’s safety.

Nova Scotia announced on Wednesday that public school students across the province will return to class on Tuesday, Sept 8.

It outlined public health guidelines and enhanced safety measures for students and teachers amid the continuing coronavirus pandemic, but many are still having mixed feelings about the return to classrooms.

Lisa Bond, a parent of two, says there are mixed reactions just within her home.

“I know my oldest boy is eager to get back,” said Bond, whose oldest son is going into high school.

Read more: Nova Scotia reports no new cases of COVID-19 on Wednesday

Bond says when students were forced to study at home, on March 16, online learning didn’t fully work for her family.

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“[He] is in a skilled trade and there was nothing for skilled trade students,” she says.

Bond’s younger son, who has been diagnosed with Autism Spectrum Disorder, is going into Grade 11. She says he is more apprehensive about returning to school.

If she could, Bond says she would consider allowing him to keep learning from home.

“He gets overly worried about everything anyway, so with having to wear masks, hand sanitizer, keeping a distance from his friends, that’s not school for kids.”

In Wednesday’s announcement, the province said all staff and students in high school will be required to wear a mask in school spaces where social distancing is not possible. Masks in classrooms are optional.

Nova Scotia releases plan for students to return to school in September
Nova Scotia releases plan for students to return to school in September

Nova Scotia’s chief medical officer of health Dr. Robert Strang said he feels comfortable reopening schools with the new guidelines in place, but some parents don’t share his confidence.

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Stacey Rudderham, a member of a Nova Scotia Parents for Public Education Facebook group, says many parents in the group are expressing concern over sending their kids back to school.

Rudderham wants the government to “offer a hybrid option for parents choosing to keep their kids at home,” she says.

This is something student Evan Colclough says is his ideal situation. “You have extra emphasis on online learning, but you have the in-class instruction as well, it keeps class sizes low.”

Read more: New Brunswick to subsidize personal electronic devices for high school learning

Colclough, who is immunocompromised, says he’s anxious about returning to school under the current plan.

While high school students are required to wear masks in halls and on buses, he’d like to see them in the classroom as well.

“I feel like mandatory masking is one of the bare minimum things we can do to protect ourselves and each other.”

Poll: Most Canadians support mandatory masks, vaccines
Poll: Most Canadians support mandatory masks, vaccines

Officials said on Wednesday classrooms are being rearranged to provide as much distancing space as possible, but it will not be possible for all students to sit 2 metres apart from each other.

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Rudderham says this plan doesn’t make sense to her, after months of the province’s chief medical officer of health reiterating the importance of personal protection measures, including physical distancing and limiting group sizes.

“All of that is going out the window for kids going back to school,” she says.

Read more: More than half of Canadians want to keep 2-metre distancing rule, poll finds

Some parents say that it’s a challenging situation for the province.

“If this is going to be life, we’re going to have to live with [COVID-19] so we have to figure out ways around it,” says parent Casey Lucas.

Meanwhile, Lisa Bond says regardless of what the government’s plan was, it wouldn’t work for everybody. “It’s a lose-lose,” she said.

N.S. parents call for government transparency in school reopening plan
N.S. parents call for government transparency in school reopening plan

President of Nova Scotia Teacher’s Union (NSTU), Paul Wozney, says the plan is a good start with positive aspects, but he calls for more details from the province.

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Wozney says he appreciates that there are plans in place to provide PPE for teachers and students when needed, but not everything is clear yet.

Included in the new back-to-school plan are alternative plans, should COVID-19 cases rise again, the province said. One of those back-up plans is a hybrid model, and the other is a return to learning at home with more help for students.

However, Wozney says there is no indication what it would take for schools to switch to either of those plans.

“Newfoundland’s plan contains clear triggers,” says Wozney. “So parents and students and teachers in Newfoundland know when they’re going to move from scenario A to scenario B.”

Wozney also says there is also some confusion over plans to cohort students so that they have contact with fewer people each day.

He says the plan can work for younger students, but in high school, it’s not doable given that each student has a unique schedule of classes.