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Paul Wozney: Nova Scotians deserve a better back to school plan

KJIPUKTUK (Halifax) – In 10 days 150,000 Nova Scotians will walk into a school. 

This is the largest, most complex reopening our province has experienced since COVID-19 reached our shores in March. 

Each and every school is connected to a community. It’s hard to find a single business or work- place that doesn’t employ at least one parent with kids in school. If we can’t control COVID-19 in our schools we won’t control it anywhere else. 

The question we all need to ask ourselves, right now, is this: Is the government’s plan good enough to keep families and communities safe? 

Is it good enough that students and teachers won’t be protected by the same six feet of social distance as patrons at a retail outlet? 

Is it good enough that every day at lunch tens of thousands of students will take off their masks and eat in a crowded classroom with poor ventilation and without physical distancing, when they aren’t allowed to do the same in a restaurant? 

Is it good enough that we don’t have a protocol developed to deal with an outbreak at a school, when similar protocols are in place for airports and shopping malls? 

Is it good enough that 35 teenagers will crowd into hot, poorly ventilated 600 square foot class- rooms, when our elected representatives won’t sit in a room four times that size at Province House? 

Is it good enough that instead of smaller class sizes, more physical distance and proper ventilation, students are getting promises of extra sanitizer and windows that might open? 

Is it good enough that the government is only promising to increase safety measures only after we have outbreaks in schools, not before, to prevent them? 

Is it good enough for families, businesses and communities that have worked so hard, and sacrificed so much over the last six months to flatten the curve, that we are now going to send our most precious resource, our children, into conditions that don’t meet basic public health guidelines for stopping the spread of COVID-19? 

For thousands of students, teachers and their families, the answer is simple: the government’s plan is not good enough. We need to do better. We need a plan so students can get back to school where they can learn and belong safely, and keeps students at school for the long haul so we aren’t all back in lockdown come Thanksgiving. 

Just yesterday the Federal government acknowledged that back-to-school plans across the coun- try are insufficient to keep children and teachers safe. As a result our Province received almost $50 million in new funds to make schools safer. 

But instead of committing to reducing class sizes and providing adequate physical distance for everyone in schools, the Premier doubled down on his poorly developed plan. As teachers and parents, we can’t allow this to happen. With the resources now in place, it’s imperative the gov- ernment fully deploy these Federal resources to allow for a Safe September. 

All Nova Scotians deserve a plan that gets this right. We can’t afford to fail the test when it comes to reopening and keeping schools open safely and sustainably. 

Paul Wozney is the president of the Nova Scotia Teachers Union

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

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