The implementation of Nova Scotia’s new pre-primary program has shed light on a potential insurance issue for some Grade Primary students in the province.

According to emails obtained by CTV News and sent by the Chignecto Central Regional School Board’s system development Chris Boulton, the Canadian Standards Association’s playground standards rate school playground equipment for ages five to 12. Pre-primary children are not allowed on the equipment during school.

An email sent to principals Friday morning says, “School boards have since sought clarification on what this means for our current Grade Primary students (who start the year at four years of age). There has been some back and forth, and a number of clarifying questions. The end result is that school boards (including CCRSB) should do whatever is necessary to keep any students younger than five and older than 12 off of the equipment. This includes four year olds in Grade Primary.”

The email also says that while four-year-old students have been using playground equipment in the past, that practice will have to end and “there is no other option.”

A second email dated later that day says the provincial directive was given to school boards by the School Insurance Program, which is a non-profit owned and operated by the school boards and the NSCC.

The email goes on to say that while the advice from the School Insurance Program remains the same, “We are not going to make this change right now. Let’s keep going with your current practice. This will not be an issue after December (until next year). There will be no communication strategy necessary, as there is no change.”

Students starting school at four years old must turn five by December.

CTV News asked the School Insurance Program for clarification about whether four year olds are covered by insurance while on the playground. The program’s risk manager Lee-Anne Dauphinee said in an email, “It is not SIP's role to publicly advise what is covered or not covered and it is not SIP's role to tell the press what advice it gives to its member organizations.”

The Chignecto Central Regional School Board did not answer questions about this on Tuesday.

The Department of Education declined to provide an interview, and sent CTV News the following statement about pre-primary students:

“We were advised by the School Insurance Program that children under five years of age were not allowed to use the playground equipment.  The safety and well-being of children in our pre-primary classrooms is always our first priority. Once we received notification from SIP about their decision, we took action to inform boards.

“While some schools may have play structures that are suitable for children under the age of five, our play-based curriculum model encourages Early Childhood Educators to use natural outdoor play spaces like grassy areas to help children learn and explore nature while they play.  

“The schools and school boards would be responsible for ensuring the safety of their students.”

Department spokesperson Heather Fairbairn told CTV News she does not know whether four-year-old primary students are covered by the Schools Insurance Program.

Nova Scotia Teachers Union president Liette Doucet said she hadn’t heard concerns about the issue from members, but said the school boards need to deal with it.

“When you're planning your programs, you're planning your curriculum and your equipment, your infrastructure, it's something you need to be looking at and apparently that has not happened,” Doucet said.

Doucet said if school boards implement a policy that prevents some students from using playground equipment, it will be up to teachers and principals to enforce.

“We have teachers who are on duty every day with the children, and those teachers will have to make sure that certain students are not playing on the playground,” she said. “Or, they’ll have to take the entire class to a different area or ensure that none of the students are playing on the playground. It’s not really fair if half the students can play and half the student cannot.”

PC MLA and education critic Tim Halman said that kind of situation would be very difficult for teachers, and that school boards need to have a plan in place. 

“I think that's alarming for parents and guardians and for residents of Nova Scotia. We expect all our departments, all our government departments to be on top of things and to have the details worked out,” Halman said.