HALIFAX -- Nova Scotia is just 55 days away from the tentative first day of school and teachers have no idea what the classroom will look like this year.

The president of the Nova Scotia Teachers Union says they've been calling on government for a communications plan for months.

"We're disappointed that that advice was not heeded," said Paul Wozney. "We knew that it would really limit the anxiety and the unrest that people would feel and that's what's spinning right now. People don't know, so people are upset and there's tons of questions. There's all kinds of uncertainty and lack of clarity and that could have all been stemmed if our advice had been followed."

There are three options on the table:

  • students could return to class full time with physical distancing and enhanced sanitation protocols in place;
  • classes could be staggered; and,
  • there could also be remote learning.

"One of the things we're not sure about is what the triggers are. You know, at what point, what the infection rates have to be for us to either get more stringent or relax more. And that's one of the things that we called for in a plan, so that the public is aware when a move between scenarios is going to occur," said Wozney.

The NDP caucus is calling on the Liberals to inform parents, students, teachers, and all staff of the plan for September as soon as possible. They say concerns around access to education are growing, especially for those students in need of additional educational supports.

"We are halfway through July and only 55 days away from the tentative first day of school. Yet the Liberal government continues to leave parents and teachers in the dark about a plan for schools," said NDP Education spokesperson Claudia Chender in a news release.

"A month and a half is a very short amount of time, especially if families, teachers and school staff have to make dramatic changes to school procedures in order to protect everyone's health." 

According to the NDP, all of the other Atlantic provinces have released return-to-school plans. Some provinces' plans, including British Columbia and Newfoundland, prioritize the return to in-school instruction for children with diverse needs.

"We have families in Nova Scotia who have been struggling for years hoping to see inclusive education expand in our province," said Chender. "Now, because of the coronavirus and the Liberal government's unwillingness to be open with the public about their plans, we have families and teachers across the province unsure of what will come, in all aspects of schooling, in less than two months' time."

Many parents are anxiously waiting for news about the upcoming school year, including Tanya Harnish. She has one child in elementary school and two children in high school.

"No matter what the decision is, if they go back to school, there are going to be parents that are anxious, that are nervous. If we keep them home, we're going to be anxious, are we teaching them right? So no matter which way it goes, there's still this high level of anxiety for every parent," said Harnish.

With a second wave of COVID-19 expected in the fall, Harnish would like to keep her kids home until December. However, she says she will send them back to the classroom if that's what government decides is best.

"I certainly don't think part going to school and part being home is a good option, because if you're sending them to school partly, the chance is still there. It's either send them to school or decide to keep them home, because then it's easier for the parents to really come up with what their plan is, because home schooling is very difficult," she said.

The Department of Education declined a request for an interview.

In a statement, the department said:  "We know the best place for our students is in the classroom and we are working on a back-to-school plan with our partners. To inform this plan we are evaluating the feedback we received from more than 28,000 parents and students as well as feedback from teachers and advice and direction from Public Health, PACE and the IWK."

The statement goes on to say, "Our timing is ahead of most provinces in announcing a detailed back-to-school plan. The minister has indicated that we are also working on three different scenarios for getting children back to school and he has said we will release our back-to-school plan by the end of July."