Return to education plan to be released this week

Students looked on closely as they were given a demonstration by practical nursing students on how to draw blood during the open house at the NSCC Strait Area Campus.

PORT HAWKESBURY: The education minister will release plans for the 2020-2021 school year this week.

On July 16, Education and Early Childhood Development Minister Zack Churchill told reporters that plans include a full return to school, as well as full curriculum and assessments, with back-up plans for 50 per cent capacity at schools and at-home learning.

“Our priority is to have students in school, we know that’s where they’re going to do their best. We know that’s best for families as well,” he said last Thursday.

Churchill said the plan includes food programs and making pre-primary available across the province to help with child-care. He said the department has ordered Personal Protective Equipment (PPE), hand sanitizer and more cleaning supplies.

“We don’t know what September will bring with this virus,” he said. “As we get into August, we should have a better sense.”

Strait regional centre for education regional executive director of education, Paul Landry confirmed that plans are in place.

“The Department of Education and Early Childhood Development is working with us, teachers, principals, educational leaders, and unions on a reopening plan,” Landry wrote in his report. “Before a plan for September can be announced, it has to be reviewed and approved by public health officials to ensure it will support the safe return for our students and staff. This plan will include input from parents/guardians, students, and School Advisory Councils, about their at-home learning experience. The department is aiming to release a reopening plan for the end of July with Public Health approval.”

As other provinces continue to share plans for public school in September, the New Democrats said Nova Scotians still have no information.

“Since March, parents have had to juggle work, parenting full-time, and facilitating at-home learning. What we saw in the spring isn’t sustainable indefinitely,” said NDP Education spokesperson Claudia Chender. “It is unacceptable for the government to continue to leave parents in the dark about what scenarios they are considering for when and how school will safely resume.”

Schools have been closed since March 16, with the school year ending early on June 5. Many summer camps have been cancelled this year, and while child care centres opened July 15 with limited capacity, most families with school-age children do not have formal child care for them, according to the NDP.

Other provinces’ plans have included part-time attendance, additional classroom space being acquired, and more on-line education being used, the NDP stated, noting that in order to limit the spread of COVID-19, schools will likely need additional space, staff, and resources to meet social distancing and cleaning requirements.

“Parents, teachers, and students need to see a plan on more than a few weeks’ notice,” said NDP Leader Gary Burrill. “We need to ensure parents, teachers, principals, and support staff are on the same page when it comes to ensuring Nova Scotia students get the education they deserve.”

The NDP caucus is calling on the Liberal government to inform parents, students, teachers, and all staff of the plan for September as soon as possible.

“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 Chender. “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.”

Churchill told reporters last Thursday that the province consulted organizations including the IWK Health Centre, public health, the Nova Scotia Teachers Union, the Public School Administrators Association of Nova Scotia and other unions.

He added they also received over 28,000 surveys from parents and students.

“[Those] have been very informative in terms of what the experience was like working from home and how we can improve that,” he said, adding the plan was designed with that feedback in mind.