Parents, teachers rally outside N.S. legislature to express concerns about back-to-school plan
HALIFAX -- Dozens of people gathered outside the Nova Scotia legislature on Monday, looking for clarification and changes to the province’s back-to-school plan.
As it stands now, students are set to return to the classroom full time on Sept. 8.
"I would feel safer going to school knowing that there was a solid plan in place, knowing sort of what protocols are in place that, if there is community spread, how we can mitigate that in our schools, how we can prevent it from spreading in our schools,” said teacher Tiffany Sparks.
Nova Scotia Education Minister Zach Churchill released the province’s back-to-school plan on July 22. It will see classrooms reorganized to increase spacing and classes will be treated as a bubble, to minimize contact with other students.
There will also be regular handwashing or hand-sanitizing by students and staff before entering school for classes and throughout the day.
As well, there will be enhanced cleaning on school buses and all school bus passengers and drivers will need to wear a mask.
The Education Department says all staff and students in high school will be required to wear a mask in school spaces where social distancing is not possible, such as in hallways and common areas.
Students and staff do not have to wear a mask in class, unless they want to, or if they are working with a student whose individual program plan requires a mask be worn.
Teachers and parents say they have questions they want answered, such as why masks are not being made mandatory in classrooms, and what the cleaning protocols will look like.
"One of the reasons why we're doing this in the middle of summer, before we get back to school, is because we really want to give government an opportunity to put our minds at ease and to get the proper protocols in place for us,” said Christine Emberlay, a high school teacher.
Many teachers say the plan put forward by government lacks important details.
"I personally work in 12 different schools that are all differently arranged. I have no faith in the moment that that plan will work well enough to keep everybody safe,” said Lynn Coolen, a fine arts specialist.
Some teachers are concerned about their health when schools reopen.
"I have severe asthma, my mother is immune compromised -- she has cancer. I’m really, really concerned. The rules seem to be different for the teachers and students than they do for the general public,” said teacher Bryn Aldworth.
Some parents also have concerns about sending their kids back to school and are making alternate arrangements.
"I actually pulled my kids from public school for this year. I put them in a private school in town where I live, simply because with the three of us being in different schools, two different child care settings, it was just too much,” said Angela Wyllie, a teacher herself.
While others are electing to keep their children’s education at home.
“I have respiratory problems and so does my son, and the schools here have poor ventilation. Every time something goes around, my kids seem to bring it home here. With COVID, I can’t chance that,” says parent Nichole Gloade. “It really bothers me that my emails to the school board have gone unnoticed and unanswered, and I’m not the only parent that that’s happened to unfortunately. Here we are, three weeks away from school, and we have no idea whether they’re going to support this form of teaching for us.”
CTV News reached out to the province's education department but was told that Minister Zach Churchill was not available for an interview.
With schools scheduled to open in less than a month, opposition MLAs are calling on the government to act now.
"I think this is a moment of extreme anxiety and stress and concern for everyone, for all Nova Scotians, but especially for parents. And so, I think the government needs to do everything possible to assure parents and students and teachers and staff that the education plan we have in front of us is safe,” said NDP MLA Claudia Chender.
"The government needs to get moving on this. They need to provide clarity to the multitude of questions that have been asked. My office, just in the last week, have received 70 questions from parents and teachers,” said Progressive Conservative MLA Tim Halman.
Teachers and parents were also calling for clarification on several other issues, including what will happen with after-school programs, and what is the threshold for triggering a shutdown of a family of schools.
They hope the government will answer those questions soon.