Sixteen-year-old Lucia Dura was devastated to learn late last week she would be unable to return to Halifax West High School in September to complete Grade 12.
It’s where the bubbly Spanish national took Grade 11, improved her English, made friends, and hoped to acquire valuable international credits that would get her into a good university.
“It was devastating,” she told Global News, speaking from Segovia, Spain, where she’s been isolating for more than a month.
“I was hoping to come back and see all my friends again, see my host families again, having an education in Canada which it now seems I’m not going to be able to have.”
The Nova Scotia Education Department decided on Aug. 21 that exchange students would not be permitted in high schools unless they had stayed inside the Atlantic bubble throughout the summer.
In a written statement, spokesperson Nicole Hersey said the “sequenced approach” it’s taking to bringing students back to Nova Scotia schools is based on advice from Public Health.
“We value the international student program and are doing a phased in approach to students returning or beginning studies in Nova Scotia,” she wrote. “A decision to admit international students for second semester will be made in December.”
The Nova Scotia International Student Program (NSISP) said it had already presented its quarantine plan for international students with the intention of bringing them back in September, when it found out about the province’s decision.
“It’s a complex decision,” said Chris Boulter, chair of the NSISP’s board of governors. “Obviously as part of the decision we had some international students who are not going to be able to come back in a physical environment in Nova Scotia for first semester, although there are some online options for them.”
The news was circulated to host families shortly afterward, but caught Dura and her host family by surprise.
“This is quite upsetting because these kids have put in a lot of time, effort to do their education in Canada,” said Monica Townsend, Dura’s Halifax host. “Some have done Grade 10 and 11 here and this is their 12th year… and now they’re up in the air.”
According to Immigration and Citizenship Canada, international students are exempt from travel restrictions as long as their study permits were approved on or before March 18, 2020 and they have a quarantine plan.
With those requirements met, Dura left many of her belongings in Halifax with Townsend, who has hosted international students from around the world for decade. Dura did not apply for high school in Spain and said she has nowhere to go in September.
“I don’t even know if I’m going to be able to go to high school here…For my parents, my education is really important. We put money into my education because it’s what really matters.”
In its emailed comments, the Education Department declined to address the federal policy stating that students like Dura can return in the fall.
Townsend, who said she considers Dura and her other international students as “part of the family,” said she’s disappointed in the provincial government’s decision — and it’s timing — especially for returning students. In some countries, she told Global News, the high school semester has already started, leaving exchange students stranded.
“I understand that they don’t want to take in new students, because new students can come any time,” she explained.
“(Returning students) were forced to go back home unless they had an urgent reason why they had to stay in Canada over the summer, and they were told they would be able to come back because the Government of Canada exempts international students as long as they have their student permit prior to March 18.”
Post-secondary students from outside the Atlantic bubble, including international students, are permitted to return by the Education Department, provided they self-isolate for two weeks and take three COVID-19 tests.
The decision to keep secondary students from elsewhere out, said Townsend, will leave a “sour taste” in the mouths of future students considering the program.
“It’s not ‘Oh, it’s Nova Scotia that’s causing us the grief,’ they just understand Canada. Future students are just going to say, ‘Canada gave us such a hard time to come back,’ or ‘my friend couldn’t go back and finish their education.'”
The NSISP’s Boulter said the program will do everything in its power to ensure participants have options in the fall, including online learning, and it’s already in the process of trying to find placements for students in other provinces.
No one who is not receiving services from NSISP, he added, will have to pay fees for the semester.