2 Nova Scotia schools extending March Break over COVID-19 concerns
The Nova Scotia Teachers Union says the province should consider making this a provincewide policy
Two Nova Scotia schools are extending March Break due to concerns over the coronavirus and the head of the Nova Scotia Teachers Union says that should happen across the province.
We'koqma'q Mikmaw School in Cape Breton will remain closed for a full week after March Break and King's-Edgehill School in Windsor will be closed for two weeks after the end of its March Break.
We'koqma'q Chief Rod Googoo said in a brief phone interview on Thursday that the community's school will close next week for March Break and will stay closed an extra week after that.
He said even though there are no known cases of COVID-19 in Nova Scotia, school officials will use the extra week to do a deep cleaning out of an abundance of caution. He said a lot of families in the community travel to and from New Brunswick, where there has there been one "presumptive" case of COVID-19.
March Break at King's-Edgehill runs from March 13-29 this year. In an email, headmaster Joseph Seagram said the private school will remain closed until April 13, because some students and families will be travelling internationally.
"Now that the virus is present in 114 countries, including Canada, the [World Health Organization] has declared it a pandemic ... We must do our bit to delay the arrival of the virus at our homes or here on campus," he said in a memo to parents, students and staff.
The memo outlines safe hygiene practices and says students will be schooled online during the extra two weeks.
On Wednesday, Nova Scotia Education Minister Zach Churchill said if a student is feeling OK after returning home from a trip abroad over March Break, that student should head back to class.
New Brunswick's education minister, on the other hand, is advising families to keep students at home for two weeks if they travelled internationally.
On Thursday, the Ontario government closed all publicly funded schools for two weeks following March Break. There are currently 59 cases in Ontario, including five listed as recovered.
Paul Wozney, president of the Nova Scotia Teachers Union, told CBC's Maritime Noon on Thursday that teachers across the province are looking to the Education Department for action, especially with flu season here and the potential spread of COVID-19.
He said no one is advocating panic, but teachers are especially concerned about March Break, because parents and students tend to travel and may be coming back from high-risk zones.
"The viability of keeping schools open is already something that the [Education Department] is wrestling with," said Wozney.
The teachers union has not had talks with the province on that, he said, but that needs to happen before the coronavirus makes it to Nova Scotia.
"Once it's here, you're really fighting an uphill battle to kind of keep it from negatively impacting the public, so you're better off to be heavy on your response preventively than you are to try to remediate once it's here," he said.
Michalle MacLeod, communications officer for the Cape Breton-Victoria Regional Centre for Education, said no decision has been made yet to extend March Break at public schools.
The Department of Education did not immediately respond to a request for comment.