Most kids are trying their best not to think about returning to school, but as summer winds down and September draws nearer, some parents are getting anxious.
“Definitely a little bit nervous not knowing what we’re going into,” said Sarah MacEachen, who is a pre-primary teacher and mother. Her daughter will be joining her in pre-primary for the first time, and MacEachen says she’d like to know more on what to expect.
“I need to prepare my daughter for what to expect, I need to prepare myself for what to expect.”
Last summer, a COVID back-to-school plan was released in July. It outlined what students could expect that would be different from a regular year, which included mask requirements, lunches to be eaten at desks in their classrooms rather than the cafeteria and student cohorts to minimize contact between groups.
But this year there’s confusion on if things will be the same as last year, go back to how things were pre-COVID or stay somewhere in the middle.
“We don’t know if the kids are wearing masks in schools, we don’t know how that’s going to work in terms of if they’re following the same plans as last year in terms of cohorts,” said father Gerry Faber.
“There’s lots of questions, there are a lot of unknowns.”
In a press briefing last week Dr. Robert Strang said that Public Health and the Department of Education are working on a return to school plan which will take into consideration the province’s path to phase five, but with a provincial election underway, it is not expected to be released until after the next government is formed.
President of the Nova Scotia Teachers Union Paul Wozney says he understands the challenges of releasing a plan during an election campaign, but the lack of communication on a return to school plan creates chaos and confusion among both parents and teachers.
“People rely on seeing what’s coming a long way away in the school life,” said Wozney.
“We felt it was imperative a back to school plan should be ready by mid July, unfortunately that’s not the road we’re on.”
But some parents say they’re not overly worried about the late release of a plan.
“I feel pretty comfortable about back-to-school,” said parent Reiko Wikles.
“We still have one more month, I’m not really worried about it, but if we can get more information that would be great before September.”
Father-of-two, Derek Leschinsky, will be seeing his kids going into grade five and grade eight, and says other than the regular back to school nerves, their family feels good about September.
“I feel pretty comfortable, I think we’ve managed this far, we’ll probably manage a little further.”
Leschinsky says both he and his daughter are fully vaccinated, and while his nine-year-old can’t get vaccinated yet, it’s not a major concern.
“I think it’s a reasonable health risk, it doesn’t really affect children his age on average so I think it’s a reasonable risk based approach,” said Leschinsky, noting that masks will play an important role for students who haven’t been vaccinated.
Even if the province enters phase five in the fall and removes mask requirements Leschinsky says his son will likely still wear one.
“There’s still an option to do it voluntarily,” he said.
Not all parents feel as comfortable about the current vaccine situation. Both of Faber’s kids are under 12 so they aren’t eligible to get vaccinated and he says it’s something that concerns him.
“Our elementary school has 300 kids in it and there are bigger ones than that, a little nervous for me and my wife, we worry about having that many people together,” Faber said.
In Dartmouth, Monica Rai says while she feels pretty confident with the overall return to school based on last year, she worries about her nine-year-old daughter being unvaccinated.
“I’m hoping everybody who could be vaccinated has done so, it is a concern that she’s not vaccinated and I will be vaccinating her as soon as they can be,” said Rai.
“Hopefully the other precautions they put in place will mitigate risks.
Currently Nova Scotia leads the country with vaccination rates with over 76 per cent of the population having received their first dose, and 67 per cent fully vaccinated.
Children between the ages of 12 and 19 were the last group eligible for vaccines, and uptake among those 12-14 is highest for those under 30, with 59 per cent already fully vaccinated and an additional 20 per cent having received their first dose.
In a letter to parents on Wednesday, Strang urged families to vaccinate kids 12 and older for the upcoming school year.
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