N.S. government spends $14.3 million to support schools; NSTU president questions expenditures
HALIFAX -- Five schools in Nova Scotia’s Central Zone have had to close temporarily since the province started seeing its second wave of COVID-19.
With COVID-19 cases confirmed in five schools, the president of the Nova Scotia Teachers Union says there needs to be a safe and sustainable way to keep schools open and COVID-19 numbers low.
"Right now our approach is entirely reactive," said Paul Wozney. "Let COVID in the front door and then we shut schools and hope that that solves the problem and that's not what was promised to parents, and students and staff at the beginning of the year."
On Wednesday, the education minister announced how $14.3 million from the federal government's Safe Return to Class Fund would be spent.
That money was part of a $48-million package announced in the summer.
The money is meant for various projects, including repairing ventilation systems at schools, to increase healthy eating programs, to purchase more personal protective equipment, like masks and hand sanitizer, and to buy 950 touchless water filling stations.
"These stations will allow students and staff to refill water bottles in a way that supports public health directives and it provides a long-term solution to many schools with water taps that need to be replaced because of issues related to lead water," said Education Minister Zach Churchill.
Wozney has concerns about some of the expenditures.
"These are redundant announcements. Spending federal safe schools money on fixing lead in water issues, is that what the money was intended for?"
While there are some positive aspects to the funding, Wozney also has questions.
"We were assured by the minister before the school year started that ventilation had already been completely inspected, so why do we need $2.7 million to do ongoing inspection of ventilation that's already been achieved?"
Wozney says government continues to ignore what schools really need.
"Reduce class sizes, fully physically distance students, ensure proper ventilation and install hand washing in every classroom and ensure everyone that can safely wear a mask is wearing one every day," Wozney said. "We don't have funding to address those key ingredients that allow schools to remain open in the long run."
DETAILS OF WEDNESDAY’S ANNOUNCEMENT
The Nova Scotia government announced Wednesday that it is spending $14.3 million on touchless water stations, healthy food programs, math and literacy programs, personal protective equipment for staff and students, and other initiatives to keep schools safe during the COVID-19 pandemic.
The $14.3 million will be spent on the following:
- $4.1 million to pilot new online math and literacy programs, accessible to students at school or learning from home
- $3.8 million on purchasing 950 touchless water stations to be installed in every school, which the province says will reduce health risks and improve the water quality
- $2.7 million on improving and inspecting ventilation systems at schools across the province.
- $1.5 million to purchase additional personal protective equipment (PPE), including masks, hand sanitizer and other supplies for students and staff.
- $1 million to support an Emergency Food Response Fund to respond to student food needs during at-home learning.
- $700,000 to support a transition to blended learning, if necessary.
- $500,000 to meet increased demand for the School Healthy Eating Program.
Nova Scotia Minister of Education and Early Childhood Development Zach Churchill made the announcement Wednesday via Zoom.
"We know that student well-being helps drive student success. These investments will support the health and safety of our students and provide the supports they need to be successful at school," said Churchill. "This funding helps our students and staff this year, but also leaves a lasting legacy in our schools for years to come."
Deanna Rawding, the principal of West Northfield Elementary School in Lunenburg County, spoke to the need of healthy food programs at her school and in schools across the province.
“Students' mornings start early, our schools start at 8 a.m., so sometimes they are on the bus at 7 a.m. and don’t have breakfast until they get here,” said Rawding. “Access to food is essential. Our job is to teach students, and in order for them to learn to their full potential they need to be fed, and feel safe and happy.”
The $14.3 million comes from the federal government’s Safe Return to Class Fund.
Last month, Churchill announced $21.5 million in federal relief money to purchase 32,000 new computers for students and upgrade servers and Wi-Fi systems in schools.