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N.S. parents of child with lung disease say more learning supports needed for vulnerable students

Click to play video: 'COVID-19: Some Nova Scotia parents worry about back-to-school'
COVID-19: Some Nova Scotia parents worry about back-to-school
Parents of a child with lung disease call for increased learning support for students who can't safely return to classrooms. – Sep 6, 2021

As thousands of families across Nova Scotia head back into classrooms, some parents of children with medical vulnerabilities are grappling with heart-wrenching decisions.

“She benefits from school so much and yet we feel like it’s too big of a risk for us to take. We know that she gets so sick with these bugs, we can’t take that risk with COVID and so it’s been a tough call,” Martha Walls said.

Walls and her husband, Corey Slumkoski, say their daughter spent much of her younger years in and out of pediatric intensive care because of lung disease.

They say they had high hopes that the provincial school plan would alleviate some of their main safety concerns, but said that’s not the case.

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“Overcrowding is a big problem in our child’s school. She attends school and often needs placement in a learning centre to do some of her activities, and our particular learning centre doesn’t have windows,” she said.

“So, we’re worried about things like air quality in the school.”

Poor ventilation coupled with masks becoming optional in schools once the province hits Phase 5 of the reopening plan are part of the reasons behind their decision to keep their daughter home.

Especially, they say, because she’s under the age of 12 and not yet eligible for a vaccine.

Click to play video: 'Nova Scotia unveils COVID-19 back-to-school plan'
Nova Scotia unveils COVID-19 back-to-school plan

There is a multi-million dollar project underway to retrofit dozens of schools across Nova Scotia with updated ventilation systems.

That project is funded through the provincial and federal governments and is expected to be completed by the end of this school year.

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Walls says there’s a disconnect between the online support that the province says is available for students with disabilities and the reality of what they’ve experienced.

“We had to pull our daughter from school last November when community spread became an issue in our city. And, it wasn’t until the end of January that she began to have some access to some virtual online supports,” she said.

Nova Scotia has an Inclusive Education Policy that came into effect last September, part of which includes a commitment to providing students with disabilities direct access to learning supports like speech pathology and occupational therapy.

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Slumkoski says they had to go to great lengths to try and get access to those supports through the Halifax Regional Centre for Education when they pulled their daughter from school following community spread.

“We had to get a letter from the doctor, we more or less had to fight tooth and nail with the HRCE to get some sort of at-home, online learning, for our daughter. They eventually provided that in the form of 15 minutes of schooling a day,” Slumkoski said.

Neither parents blame teachers at their school who they say are trying their best given the circumstances.

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“I feel like they just don’t have the resources they need to devote to unique and vulnerable children like ours,” Walls said.

Nova Scotia’s top doctor, Dr. Robert Strang, has stated that public health safety measures in schools will adapt if necessary to minimize risks to students and educators.

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