Nova Scotia education minister says schools are ready to welcome back students Monday
Online learning has been a challenge for Deborah McNamara’s teenage son.
“My middle child would have actually thrived online but my youngest, he struggles a little. He would like to be back in a regular classroom for sure,” said McNamara, whose child attends school in Nova Scotia.
But during the fifth wave of the COVID-19 pandemic, nothing is regular and McNamara says there’s still too much risk in going back to in-person learning with the highly contagious Omicron variant.
“We are seeing paediatric hospitalizations rising in other parts of the country,” said McNamara. “As much as we’d like to think it’s different here, it’s the same virus and we are no longer in this magical bubble like we had before.”
Schools in New Brunswick and Prince Edward Island will remain closed until at least Jan. 24.
In Nova Scotia, students return to in-person learning on Monday.
The president of the province's teachers union says it would prefer another week of online learning to allow more time for schools and the Department of Education to put more safety measures in place.
“I think students, staff and parents, whether you support in-person learning or whether you support remote learning, feel like guinea pigs in a grand experiment right now and we’re all waiting with bated breath to find out how that goes,” said Nova Scotia Teachers Union President Paul Wozney.
Nova Scotia’s Education Minister Becky Druhan says they are taking the lead from public health, who says schools are safe and the best place for students.
“We’re doing this (back-to-school) with public health’s support,” said Druhan. “In addition to implementing all the measures public health is recommending to ensure that schools remain safe when they return.”
Druhan says students and staff who need them will be issued three-ply medical masks, while the province has spent $2.3 million to install 1,600 HEPA air-filtration machines at 71 schools who have passive ventilation systems.
Some are more concerned about the decision to halt contact tracing in schools, like Halifax West High School teacher Ryan Lutes, who questions why they’d remove that layer of safety during the Omicron wave.
“Teachers right now are asking questions like, ‘If I find out that one of my students test positive for COVID and they let me know, can I tell my other students to let them know that they are a close contact?’ And so right now we’re being told no, we can’t do that.”
Druhan says public health has led the charge with contact tracing in schools and it’s a procedure that will no longer be pursued when students return to schools – a decision made by public health.
In the case of staffing shortages, the province says they have a contingency plan in place to address that, but added it will be dealt with on a case-by-case basis.
"We'll do what we can to manage that balance and make sure we have the right resources deployed in the right places," said Druhan. “There might be some hiccups and there will probably be some days where we have some staffing issues to address but we’ll handle them as they come.”
The Halifax Regional Centre for Education (HRCE) says they have taken steps to ensure the return to class is as safe as possible and look forward to welcoming back students on Monday.
“We will exhaust all options before closing a school,” HRCE spokesperson Doug Hadley said. “Keeping our learning centres open continues to be a high priority.
“To cover any shortage in staffing, we will draw from substitute teacher and retired administrator lists. We are also ready to reassign licensed teachers who typically work centrally to schools, just as we did in December.”