Nova Scotia has changed course and will now implement mandatory masks for Grade 4 to Grade 12 students when classes return on Sept. 8.
Students will be permitted to take masks off when they are seated at their desks. They must also be worn in hallways and other common areas if a two-metre distance cannot be maintained.
Education Minister Zach Churchill and Dr. Robert Strang, Nova Scotia’s chief medical officer of health, announced the decision at an education update on Friday, along with additional funding and more safety measures.
“Our goal, first and foremost, is student and staff safety. We developed our plan to be flexible, to best support the return to school for children, students and staff,” said Churchill.
“This year will be different.”
Churchill said ventilation systems are being checked in schools across the province in order to ensure equipment is operating properly and that windows can be opened.
“If there is any maintenance requirements that we need to do, we’ll be engaged with that,” he said.
The province is spending an additional $40 million for more teachers, custodians, lunch monitors, early child care and general school supplies.
Churchill said $29 million of the $40 million will be spent on teaching.
He said that some of the additional educators who will be hired will be “qualified people” without a Bachelor of Education.
Churchill said they will be looking to hire people who are experts in subjects like history or music in order to fill in as substitutes.
All students and staff members will receive two free reusable cloth masks at the start of the year. After that disposable masks will be available upon request.
Churchill and Strang said the decision to update the plan is the result of a change in guidance from the Public Health Agency of Canada.
“There will be valid reasons that individuals can’t wear masks,” Strang said.
“We will all need to accept that.”
Churchill said that enforcement of the mask rule will be a shared role between administrators and school staff. However, they will not be required to ask for proof of why individuals are not wearing masks.
Before and after school programs will be offered in accordance with public health guidelines while a return to school sports schedule is in the final stages of development, the province said.
The sports schedule will be sent to schools by the Nova Scotia School Athletic Federation.
Churchill has previously said the back to school plan is supported by public health, the IWK Health Centre and education partners.
The new announcement comes in addition to the previously announced measures that include staggered recesses and lunches, enhanced cleaning protocols, distancing in classrooms, and mandatory masks in hallways and on buses.
A class will be treated as a bubble to minimize contact with other students.
In-school assemblies and other large gatherings will not be permitted. Cafeterias and school food programs will deliver food to students and students will eat lunch at their desks.
Each school will also have an isolation space where students who feel unwell can wait to be picked up by parents.
The Education Department will provide sanitizer and personal protective equipment (PPE) for all the province’s schools.
But the Nova Scotia Teachers Union (NSTU) expressed concern over who is responsible for cleaning and sanitizing classroom equipment, and whether teachers will be able to change their PPE in between classes or one-on-one sessions with students in different bubbles.
Parents and educators rallied in front of Province House in Halifax earlier this week in an attempt to seek clarity on how elected officials plan to keep students, staff and their families safe when schools reopen.
— With files from Global News Alicia Draus and Aya Al-HakimView link »