Nova Scotia has announced that it will use $14.3 million from the federal safe return to class fund to help pay for healthy food programs, math and literacy programs and personal protective equipment (PPE) for staff and students.
The province’s education and early childhood minister Zach Churchill announced the funding on Wednesday.
These investments will support the health and safety of our students and provide the supports they need to be successful at school, Churchill said.
“COVID-19 has pushed us to find new ways to keep our students learning in safe, supportive environments. This funding helps our students and staff this year, but also leaves a lasting legacy in our schools for years to come.”
Nova Scotia says $500,000 will be used to help fund the province’s School Healthy Eating Program, which has seen increased demand during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Another $1 million will go to the emergency food response fund to quickly respond to the food needs of students if they need to transition to home-learning.
“That could be food hampers delivered to homes or prepaid grocery cards, the program will be flexible,” said Churchill.
“When we move to online learning students won’t be left out or left hungry.”
The province also says it will install approximately 950 touchless water stations in every school in the province at a cost of $3.8 million.
Since December 2019, the province has provided bottled water to schools as a result of high levels of lead in drinking water.
A groundbreaking investigation by Global News, the Star Halifax, Concordia University’s Institute for Investigative Journalism, the University of King’s College, and other media and academic partners found that in the past 10 years, at least 24 schools in Nova Scotia have had lead levels exceeding Health Canada’s current limit, and the majority of schools had never tested the water.
Final analysis by the Nova Scotia government found that 87 per cent of the 123 schools had unsafe levels of lead flowing from at least one tap, with levels as high as 1,880 times above Health Canada’s legal limit.
Now, the province has announced that schools that have safe water will move from bottled water to touchless water filling stations.
Other schools will continue with remediation in order to fix the high levels of lead in the province’s schools.
“With this funding, Chignecto Central Regional Centre for Education will be able to install approximately 240 touchless water bottle filling stations in schools across the region. This will allow us to meet accessibility standards and provide drinking water in a more hygienic manner,” said Gary Adams, the regional executive director of the Chignecto Central Regional Centre for Education.
The province will provide $4.1 million to pilot new online math and literacy programs which will be available at school or from home.
The programs include math for Grade 3 to Grade 10 and enhanced literacy for Primary Grades to Grade 3, including phonics, fluency, vocabulary and reading comprehension.
Other programs include writing through practice for Grade 4 to Grade 6 students and additional supports for reading and writing development.
Professional learning for teachers will be part of a phased implementation of these programs.
Another $2.7 million will help the province continue to inspect ventilation systems in every school throughout the year.
During the summer, each regional centre for education and the Conseil Scolaire Acadien Provincial (CSAP) had inspected the ventilation system before students and staff returned.
The new cost will allow for increased inspections and ensure that any needed repairs are made quickly, the province announced on Wednesday.
While Churchill said this funding is primarily in response to overarching concerns about ventilation systems but stressed that numerous inspections of systems across the province have yet to find any red flags.
But Paul Wozney, president of the Nova Scotia’s Teacher’s Union (NSTU), says that’s not what they’re seeing on the ground and says the money could be put to better use in addressing air quality inside schools.
“More than half of our schools have either no ventilation system or have ventilation systems that are so old that they’re not required to meet national standards. There are plenty of single room air quality units that could be purchased,” said Wozney.
The NSTU also expressed disappointment that this funding does not address ongoing concerns about the lack of ability to practice physical distancing in schools as well as the lack of handwashing stations available to students.
PPE such as masks, hand sanitizer and other supplies will also be purchased for students and staff at a cost of $1.5 million.
The province says $700,000 will help support a transition for students to blended learning of at-home and at-school education if that becomes necessary due to the pandemic.