Provincial officials, local parents and staff making plans for graduation

Access to school being granted to pick up items of students

HALIFAX: As parents and students continue to lobby education officials, discussions are ongoing to allow Grade 12 students to celebrate their graduations.

Education department communications officer JoAnn Alberstat said a plan is in place to recognize the completion of secondary education.

“… Discussions are underway on what type of student recognition can take place for graduates while following public health protocols,” Alberstat told The Reporter. “More information will be shared with students and families as plans are finalized.”

Earlier this month, education minister Zach Churchill promised Grade 12 students, an opportunity to celebrate the milestone when it is safe.

In a Letter to the Editor in the May 20 edition of The Reporter, John Ouellette of Port Hawkesbury asked that Premier Stephen McNeil provide a mandate for the education minister, the Regional Centres for Education, and high schools, to figure out together how to celebrate Grade 12 graduation.

“Parents are eager and ready to help but have been told they cannot proceed with planning any officially sanctioned graduation activities without direction from you, the department of education, and the Regional Centres for Education,” Ouellette wrote. “Concerned parents have been sent communication that indicates educational leaders need your permission to start planning and working with students and parents.”

Just from initial discussions, Ouellette said he has heard innovative and safe ideas for marking graduation, including using outdoor drive-in movie theatres and airstrips.

“Our young people need this celebration,” he wrote. “Nova Scotia needs this celebration. Trust us to get this right. Let parents, students and schools figure this out. You, Dr. Strang and minister Churchill can rest assured that health and safety is at the forefront of all our minds.”

By depriving students, parents and teachers of celebrations, Ouellette argued that the province is sending a message that Grade 12 students can be trusted to pack groceries during a pandemic but not to plan their own graduations.

The other risk of not allowing graduation to be recognized is that some parents and students may decide to hold their own events that do not meet public health guidelines, Ouellette noted.

During a press briefing on May 8 in Halifax, Premier Stephen McNeil announced that all schools in Nova Scotia will remain closed until September, but at-home learning will continue until June 5, and teachers will work until the end of June to finalize student assessments.

For daycare operators, McNeil said the goal is to open by June 8 but the timeline for them to resume will be determined in consultation with the sector.

Alberstat said Regional Centres for Education and the Conseil scolaire acadien provincial (CSAP) are working with schools to develop plans to retrieve student belongings.

In a letter dated May 19, regional executive director of education Paul Landry said principals will be reaching out this week (May 25-29) to allow public access to schools during the week of June 8-12.

“We know many students have school items to return to the school,” Landry wrote. “This date will allow you to return items following the learning period at the same time as picking up your belongings.”

Landry said the Strait regional centre for education is now working closely with its schools to develop plans that maintain public health protocols such as physical distancing and limiting numbers. He added school access will be limited to a single student or family member and will be by appointment only.