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Memo to educators sparks confusion and concern among Nova Scotia teachers

Click to play video: 'Teachers concerned about request to make schoolwork available to students at home' Teachers concerned about request to make schoolwork available to students at home
WATCH: A memo sent out to regional centres for education in Nova Scotia over the weekend has prompted concerns from teachers. The memo asked teachers make work and assignments available to families whose children are at home. As Alicia Draus reports, the teachers’ union says many teachers are feeling overwhelmed by the workload – Jan 24, 2022

A memorandum addressed to regional executive directors, school administrators and teachers was sent out Saturday night, stating that teachers are to make work and assignments available to families who keep their kids at home.

The practice itself is not unusual. Even before COVID-19, teachers would work with families of children who had prolonged absences to ensure they had access to materials and resources to stay on top of coursework, but the pandemic has made made that more labour intensive.

“The concern is the scale of the absences,” says Nova Scotia Teachers Union President Paul Wozney.

Wozney also noted that the memo sparked other concerns among teachers.

“There were fears that this was a signal that we were headed to some mode of learning that wasn’t in person learning or remote learning, without a whole lot of notice,” said Wozney.

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Read more: Return to in-class learning gets mixed reaction in Nova Scotia

Throughout the pandemic, teachers have been forced to switch from in-person learning to online learning, often with little time to prepare.

“It requires significant time and preparation to support a difference in teaching practice so learning can be as meaningful as possible,” said Wozney.

“So when there are warning signs that you know some new way of teaching may be in the cards and it’s not known what that new way is, it, you know people are raw.”

The Minister of Education declined an interview on Monday but in an emailed statement said that, “the memo sent out to teachers on Saturday acknowledged, congratulated and thanked all educators on a successful first week back to in-person learning” and that the overall goal of the memo was “to ensure consistency across the province in ensuring that all students who are absent from school have access to learning materials and assignments.

Absenteeism on rise

On average, school absenteeism can be as high as 12 per cent, but during the first week back, the Halifax Regional Centre for Education saw absenteeism at almost 17 per cent on the first day back, increasing to just over 19 per cent on Friday.

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Wozney says he understands that parents are concerned about sending their kids to school during the Omicron wave and that’s why the NSTU has called for more online learning, to better prepare for in-person learning.

“Gives us time to install HEPA filters in schools with no ventilation system, it also buys us time to procure and deploy N-95 masks for staff and students and gives us time to roll out vaccines to school staff and students, particularly the five-to-11 age group,” said Wozney.

When it comes to online learning versus in class, many parents and guardians have mixed feelings.

Click to play video: 'N.S. university changes mind about in-person classes after winter break' N.S. university changes mind about in-person classes after winter break
N.S. university changes mind about in-person classes after winter break – Jan 18, 2022

Phyllis Collier cares for her two school-aged grandsons, but because of her age she worries about them bringing COVID home.

“We’re worried about COVID having a higher impact on our health, and also my concern is that my grandsons will be missing out on school,” said Collier.

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The grandmother says they’re going day by day, but making decisions is difficult now that the province has stopped issuing exposure notices and contact tracing at schools.

“You’re not able to make informed decisions if you only got half the information or no information,” she said.

Collier says she’s been relying on the volunteer parent group Parents for Public Education which has been trying to list exposures based on information from parents. She says she’s glad they’re doing that, but has no way of knowing the accuracy and would like to see the province provide that information again, something Wozney says he, too, would like to see.

Read more: Nova Scotia reports 5 more COVID-19 deaths, outbreak at Northwood nursing home

In the meantime, the Teachers Union President points out that the memo sent to teachers seems to be more supportive of families choosing to keep their kids home, something that is inconsistent with previous messaging from government and public health.

“Until now, Dr. Strang and the Premier have been very clear that schools are safe and everybody should be in class,” said Wozney.

“This feels to system staff like a hidden admission that maybe schools aren’t so safe, but we’re going to accommodate people if they decide it’s not safe.

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