Thousands of parents across Nova Scotia are calling on the business community to support them in pushing the province for answers to concerns over the government’s plan for returning to school.
“This reopening, if it doesn’t go well and we end up with an outbreak, or several outbreaks across the province, businesses are going to end up getting closed down again, as they did in the spring,” said Stacey Rudderham, a member of Nova Scotia Parents for Public Education.
“So this impacts more than just students and school staff, and students, and so on — this impacts the business community as well.”
Rudderham says the coalition felt that because the business community was an integral part of consultations with the government for reopening plans, rallying the business associations across Nova Scotia would help further their cause for answers to back-to-school concerns.
“Thankfully, we are hearing from some of them that they are, too, quite concerned about the plan as it stands and that they are actually communicating that to the minister as well,” she said.
The current plan has students and staff returning to full capacity on Sept. 8.
The provincial education minister says the return plan is flexible and able to adapt to Nova Scotia’s COVID-19 epidemiology.
“People need to know that public health, the IWK support this and were instrumental in putting this plan together,” Zach Churchill said.
Churchill says getting students back into classrooms is an integral part of health and wellness for children.
“Parents and students and staff should have confidence that we have a plan that allows us to get our kids back to school, where we know they need to be,” he said.
Churchill says it’s impossible to eliminate the risk of COVID-19 transmission and that the current plan minimizes it.
Thousands of parents are unifying their voices in disagreeing with that statement.
An open letter to business associations across Nova Scotia states that the province needs to “adhere to the minimum requirements set out by public health.”
Those minimum requirements include masks being required for all employees and students who can wear them, physical distancing of six feet for students in groups larger than 10 and learning environments that meet the minimum standards for fresh air intake.
Churchill says all ventilation systems have been fully assessed in Halifax and other regions will be completing their assessments soon. He says every ventilation system will be “maintained and fully operational.”
In an email statement earlier this week, a communications advisor with the education department wrote that windows will have to be relied on for fresh air flow in some older buildings.
“For some of our older schools and portables ventilation is passive this means windows are used to allow for fresh-air flow, in these cases we’re ensuring all rooms have windows in good working order,” wrote Violet MacLeod, a communications advisor with the education and early childhood development department.
Rudderham says this response doesn’t sit well with some parents, who are told their children will be in classrooms where there aren’t any windows.
“I had a note from a parent who said that her son is going into Grade 9 and his classroom is in the basement and has no windows. So, what windows is his teacher supposed to open? So, these aren’t the right answers. It’s almost flippant and dismissive,” she said.
Too many students in classrooms and hallways, even with masks on, is an ongoing concern that parents and teachers continue to express.
“Reduced class sizes is essential. I also think that the minister needs to stop kind of insinuating that any of these questions or queries are unfounded,” Rudderham says.
The current return plan makes masks mandatory for students in grades 4 to 12 in spaces where they cannot physically distance.
Churchill says if the coronavirus risk level increases, there are options in place to respond, such as “the ability to move our older students to at-home learning and fully space out our younger students in the education system.”
Rudderham says many parents and teachers feel waiting for an outbreak to implement measures that would increase distancing is a counterproductive approach that carries the risk of shutting down the provincial economy for a second time this year.