Parents of children with chronic conditions feel limited by N.S. return-to-school plan

Click to play video: 'Parents of children with chronic conditions feel left in limbo' Parents of children with chronic conditions feel left in limbo
Parents of children with chronic conditions say Nova Scotia’s return-to-school plan has left them with few options. Graeme Benjamin explains – Sep 11, 2020

Even with Nova Scotia’s return-to-school plan now in full swing, parents of children with chronic health conditions say they’re still unsure of what the school year will look like.

Adriana Steele, whose 16-year-old son Gabriel lives with chronic asthma, says she’s still not at a point where she feels comfortable sending her son back into a public school setting.

“Gabriel would like to be a part of the school community, his principal would like to have him as a part of the school community, so it would be a real shame if we were taken out of the public school system,” said Steele.

Steele notes that due to her family’s situation, they have to take extra precautions. Her partner, Chaffie Steele, works in the long-term care industry.

“If (Gabriel) gets sick and he doesn’t even know that he’s sick, I could get the virus,” said Chaffie. “And the environment that I go to, people are very vulnerable.”

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In a return-to-school guidance letter from August, the IWK Health Centre said children who have asthma, diabetes, congenital heart disease, autism, epilepsy and other chronic conditions are “not considered significantly immunocompromised.”

That was something that came as a shock to Adriana and Chaffie Steele.

“It makes me feel like they have no idea how to raise a kid who has chronic asthma,” said Adriana. “The number of times that he as a young person was in hospital and the number of times that he has to use his rescue inhalers … it’s hard to me to justify how much work was put the final details.”

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Those considered immunocompromised by the IWK Health Centre include those who have chemotherapy currently or within the past six months, radiation therapy, a bone marrow transplant, sickle-cell disease, a genetic cause for immune dysfunction, HIV/AIDs, a spleen that doesn’t work or immunosuppressive medication.

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For Kristen Somma of Eastern Passage, who has one child on the autism spectrum and another with Type 1 diabetes, a COVID-19 flare-up in schools could have significant repercussions.

That’s why she, too, has kept two of her kids at home for the time being.

“For my family, it could be such an issue that my son could end up in the ICU alone, or worse, my son could die,” said Somma.

The Nova Scotia Teachers Union (NSTU) has been vocally against the IWK’s assessment of children with asthma being deemed low risk.

“I think a blanket statement from any medical doctor that everybody with asthma will be fine under the plan is probably not a responsible position to take,” said Paul Wozney, NSTU president. “Some students with asthma are going to be able to mask as per directives but some students with asthma, if their cases are really severe. probably can’t mask safely.”

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As for Gabriel, he just wants to find a way to get things back to some form of normal.

“The time I miss, the worse it gets. Because I have to catch up after. I’m just trying to find a way to get back to school.”

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The Steeles are hoping the province adapts to a more hybrid model of learning as the year progresses to allow students who need to stay home for health reasons to do so.

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