Education featured

Parent group and teachers union demand a better back-to-school plan

Media, parents and teachers getting ready for the press conference. Photo Robert Devet

KJIPUKTUK (Halifax) – A press conference by parents and teachers this morning raised questions around the province’s back-to-school plan that, with just 10 days to go, are becoming increasingly urgent.

”I am not a  hand wringing hysterical mother, and I know the start of school is always an anxiety-filled event. But this year we are talking about a virus with potentially long-lasting effects,” said Christine Emberly, talking about the provincial back to school plan.

How will kids learn, and how are parents going to be able to look after their kids if a school has to close, she asked

Emberley spoke at a press conference at the Westin Hotel in Halifax this morning, jointly organized by the group Nova Scotia Parents for Public Education and  the Nova Scotia Teachers Union (NSTU). 

“This is the largest, most complex reopening our province has attempted since COVID-19 reached our shores in March. Each and every school is connected to a community,” said Paul Wozney, president of the NSTU and himself a father of three children. “If we can’t control COVID-19 in our schools, we won’t control it anywhere else.” 

Speakers at the presser raised concerns about classrooms not being large enough to maintain physical distancing, safety of younger children who are currently not required to wear a mask, and the absence of clear guidance in case a school or classroom must close and children need to be quarantined.

Not knowing what will happen if and when students are sent home is making it harder to ask legitimate questions, Wozney said.

“We have so many Nova Scotians that live at or below the poverty level, that have no access to sick leave, that can’t afford 14 days of unpaid leave at home, we don’t know when new supports will kick in. There is a blind spot here,” said Wozney. “If schools have to close tomorrow, that’s a lot of families who can’t make rent. That’s a lot of families who you are in arrears on their mortgage facing foreclosure. Families need this type of clarity and communication.”

The NSTU and the parents group both asked that parts of the $48 million emergency funding in support of a safe reopening of schools recently announced by the federal government be used to rent additional space where needed. As well, some of that money could be used to hire additional teachers and other resources to allow for proper physical distancing in smaller classes. 

Neither the union nor the parents group were at all reassured by the IWK endorsement of the plan, pointing to Toronto’s Sickkids Hospital reluctance to endorse a back to school plan in Ontario that is very similar to Nova Scotia’s plan.   

The IWK emphasizes the need for kids to go back to school for their emotional well being, and that’s fair, but I don’t think they understand the state of ventilation in our schools, and I don’t think they understand how few classes are actually going to fully physically distance kids under this plan, Wozney said.

“Many of our questions remain unanswered or ignored. There seems to be very few people who can help us navigate our way through the system. Moreover, there have been plenty of important decisions, but these have been made without consultation with students, parents, staff, and  local governments and local communities. For many of us, we feel we are on the outside looking in,” said Adam Davies, a former School Board member from Cumberland County. 

“We have fallen into a system of one way communication from the government, where people are only informed of matters, but never engaged in them. In my experience as an elected school board member that only serves to heighten animosity and weaken confidence in the system itself,” Davies said. 

On the weekend Parents for Public Education launched a petition calling for a “better back-to-school plan” that in just a few days received almost 8,000 signatures.

See also: “School needs to be safe, this cannot be negotiable” – Unions respond to province’s back to school plan

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2 Comments

  1. Kendall Worth Here;

    What I will say about all this is “if I was a parent their will be no way my kids would be going back to school on September 8th”.
    And here are the reason why;

    #1 – Fist and foremost I would want to be sure that the Ventilation System at my kids school is in good working order before I even consider send them back.

    Then:

    #2 – I do not like the fact that they are doing any work on Reducing the Class Sizes. They Complain the Schools do not have enough have enough classrooms or space to do that. Well here is my solution to this problem:
    Have from Grades Primary to 8 go to school in person and have grade 9 to 12 students study from home. Use the space/classrooms that nominally host Grade 9 to 12 Students as extra space to split up the Younger Grades in half. This way Class Sizes are reduced. As another alternative have Portable Classrooms placed outside on school property. I have heard thier some other Jurisdictions that do this. Also I remember where I went to high school, thier was a loins Club located next door to my school where i was attending from grades 7 to 12. I remember one year when the floor was getting redone in our school Gym. Our Gym classes were held at the Lions Club while the Gym floor was getting fixed. So here is another idea, for schools that has a community hall located next door to the school provided the hall is used for nothing during the day time, use that space for some classes. That lions Hall was big enough that you place a class of 15 students on each side of the hall, have room to split them apart and with a space in the middle. An idea like this is called thinking creatively. Some schools may have a church located nearby with a big enough space to have a class up to 10-15 students, antoehr space that can used to split up students.

    #3 – I do not like the idea of Segated Recces and; especially the older students Grades 7 and up not being able to sit with their friends in the Cafeteria at Lunch time. I believe the older students can and should be trusted to fallow the public health guidelines meaning Social Distancing while sitting in the Cafeteria. I do not believe in treating students especially in grades 7 and up like they are kids.

    #4 – ALso I worry about Students who are going to need extra help because they have learning disabilities. Social Distancing between them and their TA’s is going to be more difficult. What is in the plan for students who need this one on one support while at school?

    Anyway I have friends who are parents who tell me they are not sending thier kids back to school on September 8th. One of these friend who I am talking about here tell me she has a plan with arrangements made with 4 other parents where her kids and the kids of those other parents will be getting home-schooled at a friends house in a class of 9 kids starting step.8th.

    Reply
  2. My suggestion, un-amalgamate. It was a bad idea in the first place. Open the school houses in communities where they yet exist. Let the community rooms at fire halls and churches and community centres operate as classrooms.
    The logistics are only impossible if we believe they are.

    Reply

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