No one forced to return to school – minister

HALIFAX: The education minister confirmed that students and staff will be back in school in September.

On July 22, Minister of Education and Early Childhood Development, Zack Churchill, along with chief medical officer of health, Dr. Robert Strang, announced that public school students across the province will return to class on Tuesday, September 8.

“One of the biggest lessons we learned is how critical it is that our children and our students are in school,” Churchill said of the past school year. “Medical and health experts tell us that children need school for their emotional, social, physical, and mental well-being, and we also heard that from parents and students themselves in the surveys that were completed.”

Classes will resume 100 per cent and the full provincial curriculum will be taught, although there will be some changes to the physical education and music programs.

“Distancing, obviously, is more important now in phys ed and music class. There’ll be more focus on being outdoors in phys ed and on skills development that do not involve close interactions,” Churchill said. “The same goes for music class. We’ll have disposable receptacles for any instruments where there’s saliva. There’ll be strict cleaning processes in place.”

Teachers will undertake comprehensive assessments of where students are in their learning.

“Teachers will spend the time to get to know your children, and their strengths and weaknesses, as they’ve always do, and they will quickly learn about student gaps and strengths, and planning and instruction in response to that,” Churchill said.

Access to schools will be limited to students and staff, or what the minister called “essential adults.”

“Parents will be asked to drop-off at the door to the school and all adults will begin any visit to the school at the office so they can be assisted in ways that limit access to the rest of the school property,” Churchill explained. “Substitute teachers will be scheduled to work in the fewest number of schools possible.”

As for students unable to attend school because of pre-existing physical conditions, the minister said they will be exempt.

“Public health and the IWK advised us that a very small number of children won’t be able to attend school due to health issues,” Churchill added. “There are plans in place to support them, and they will not be penalized from an attendance perspective.”

Churchill noted that the situation is the same for teachers and support staff, who are older or have health problems.

“Obviously, no one is going to lose their job if they have a health issue or if they get sick while they’re teaching,” the minister said. “Staff who require additional protective equipment, we will provide that.”

As well, students and staff are required to self-screen before school. In the case there is infection, the province is asking that education officials isolate children who become ill, mask the student and supervising staff at school, and call that student’s parents.

“Anyone who feels ill during the day, will be immediately isolated and sent home,” the minister explained.

Churchill said the department has secured masks, hand sanitizer and Personal Protect Equipment, which are being distributed in each region.

“The safety of our staff and students is central to our plan,” the minister noted. “As they return, there will be enhanced health and safety measures in our schools for our students and our staff.”

The Pre-Primary program will proceed in all schools in the province in September.

Assemblies, curriculum nights and parent-teacher meetings will now be held virtually.

In September, the province said students, families and staff can expect that the Strait regional centre for education and the Conseil scolaire acadien provincial will have plans for enhanced cleaning, physical distancing and situations specific to schools in their area.

Classrooms will be reorganized to increase spacing, and each class will be treated as a bubble, to minimize contact with other students. Under this plan the classes will have lunch and recess together, there will be no sharing of supplies, paper and food and teachers are encouraged to move classes outside where possible.

Cafeterias and school food programs will deliver food to students, and students will eat lunch at their desks.

There will no access to lockers at any school.

There will be enhanced cleaning on school buses and all school bus riders and drivers will need to wear a mask.

All staff and students in high school will be required to wear a mask in school spaces where social distancing is not possible, like 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.

Regular handwashing or hand sanitizing by students and staff before entering school for classes and throughout the day will be enforced.

In-school assemblies and other large gatherings will not be permitted.

As for technology, schools will encourage students to bring and use their own device in school, and students who don’t have access to a device at home will receive a device. Parents said there were some challenges in accessing technology, so the province invested $4 million to secure 14,000 computers to support student learning for those with limited or no access to technology.

For children who need additional supports, the province said supports will be provided in all school options. In September, all specialist services will be available at school.

School clubs will go ahead if they can be done safely and in-line with public health guidelines.

“During the pandemic, our Provincial Pediatric Advisory Group will continue to review world-wide evidence and work with parents, education and public health leaders to ensure we reduce COVID risks and promote student well-being,” said Dr. Andrew Lynk, chief of pediatrics, IWK Health Centre, Halifax.

The province said the plan is supported by public health, the IWK Health Centre and education partners, and was developed with survey feedback from more than 28,000 parents and students, and input from union and education partners. Led by education regions, the survey was sent to all parents and students.

The feedback gathered included requests for a predictable learning schedule, and clear expectations for teachers related to on-line teaching and learning. During on-line learning, teachers will deliver classes with a mix of real-time instruction and self-directed assignments.

In the survey, teachers and parents also gave their views on the importance of high expectations along with ongoing assessment, feedback and reporting on report cards. As a result, teachers will give marks and grades in all areas, report cards will be issued as per normal schedules, and parents are encouraged to sign up for PowerSchool to receive e-report cards and to track the status of homework and assignments. Also provincial examinations (English 10, Français 10, and Mathematics /Mathématiques 10) will take place.