Lack of communication, collaboration and transparency have many parents and educators concerned about children going back to school.
Halifax, NS-July 20, 2020 l The announcement of a back to school plan coming this week has fuelled plenty of discussion among parents and educators on the Nova Scotia Parents for Public Education Face Book Group. Formed to support Educators in 2016, the group has a membership of more than 17,000 members, from one end of the province to the other.
In the last two weeks, we have reached out to members, parents, and educators, both from within the group and from others, to get feedback on how much communication and collaboration was going into the planning of reopening schools. To that end, we have found very little has been done to include these stakeholders in the planning. When we ask parents and teachers what they are concerned most about, overwhelmingly, those who answered are concerned, not about the economy, or their kids falling behind but rather, about exposure and health impacts, both immediate and long term. When we asked what their preferences were with regard to schools re-opening, respondents overwhelmingly indicated they were looking for a reduced classroom population or strong and solid options for parents to be able to keep their kids out of schools without losing their quality education. Teachers are often parents too, but the varied responses from all the teachers who are taking part in these discussions were the same as parents, prioritizing health and safety measures.
In his announcement July 16, Minister Zach Churchill said that the plan is to open schools at 100% capacity, although there were three options on the table. The Minister touted a survey sent out in June and says he had 22,000 responses. A lack of transparency around that survey really leaves parents and educators with a lot of lingering questions. The survey, which was done with Survey Monkey, did not include collaboration with educators for whom any feedback on the learning process after schools shut down would be helpful, nor was it an in-depth look at what the process of home learning was like for a majority of students.
Since the survey was sent out to some parents and students from grade 7 and up, we have no idea how many went to each group, nor how many were answered by parents versus students. For students who do not have access to the internet, there was either little or no feedback from them, or their parents. Since the shutdown of schools in the spring, the Minister of Education has been absent to the public until now, a month before schools should be starting again for the year. That is not a way to lead a school system.
Members of Nova Scotia Parents for Public Education have also noted that the provincial government has not met in person in the legislature or in committees due to the risks from Covid-19. Media are still not permitted to attend press conferences with the Premier and Dr. Strang in person. And schools are buildings containing from less than 100 up to 1,600 students, plus teachers, and other staff, in clusters of students up to 30 plus per classroom.
Minister Churchill also stated that the plans were developed in consultation with other groups such as the IWK, Public Health and the NSTU. Again, transparency is a lingering issue, because consulting is a lot different than implementing the ideas from all the voices at the table. Reports are showing us that educators’ concerns and ideas may not have been implemented, although the Minister touts their input.
Let’s look back to 2016, when our government stripped the NSTU and our educators of having any formal say in the education system. Since then, teachers have continued fighting for the rights of our students to have the resources in place that were needed to help them, better classroom conditions that would help students get the best education, and more classroom support. But our government has chosen to not listen to our educators. We have seen over the last four years how children now, in some instances, are falling behind because those supports are still not in place. School boards have been abolished and parents are still struggling to get the required help for their vulnerable children, and now our government is saying these children need to be in class where the help is available. Yet nothing has changed.
Many of us have repeatedly asked government to come up with a plan to help families and children across this province get connected to high speed internet, and despite the promises, this has yet to happen. We also recognize the absence of school has exacerbated the financial, emotional and social tolls on families and children in Nova Scotia. We are now in a situation where these concerns must be a priority for government. We are in the midst of a worldwide pandemic and there is no reason to believe that because we currently appear to have flattened the curve, that it will stay that way in the coming months.
Three options on the table will not be enough. Communication, collaboration, transparency, more input from stakeholders, and plans to fix the things that will hold some children back should they not be able to attend classes, must be part of any plan.
We have forced teachers to be creative in their classrooms when the things they needed for their students were taken away. Now parents, businesses, and government need to be creative in helping protect all children and families from the possibility of a Covid 19 resurgence. Putting children, teachers, school employees (including janitors, specialists, ECE’s, bus drivers and vulnerable family members) in a bad situation is not an acceptable option.
While parents and teachers have indicated they are being left out of discussions around planning, we look forward to seeing the plan(s) that come out this week from the Department of Education and this government, and you can almost be certain there will be a lot of discussion yet to come