Nova Scotia

Sending school work home for absent students in line with contract, says N.S. teachers' union

A weekend email from the Education Department advising teachers to make work available to absent students did not include details, prompting concern from the teacher's union.

Students staying home from school will have access to work as they normally would

Although most students returned to in-person learning last week, some are staying home out of concerns related to COVID-19. (Evan Mitsui/CBC)

Members of Nova Scotia's Education Department, teachers' union, Public Health and the association representing school administrators met Monday to clear up confusion over a memo advising educators to make work available to students who are not attending class in person.

The email sent Saturday evening from the department did not include details on how teachers should proceed, prompting the Nova Scotia Teachers Union to express concern about burnout during an already stressful time.

But on Monday, Education Minister Becky Druhan clarified that teachers are not being asked to prepare different or additional materials or to introduce a hybrid learning model.

Druhan said in a statement that the weekend memo was about ensuring students have access to learning even if they aren't in school, and that it happens in a consistent way across the province.

"Making work available for students who are absent (for illness for example) is a long-standing and well-established practice," she said in the statement.

"Teachers are experienced in providing missed work and assignments to students, and we are confident in their ability to continue the practice."

Becky Druhan is Nova Scotia's minister of education and early childhood development. (Robert Short/CBC)

Paul Wozney, president of the teachers' union, said the meeting helped put his membership's worries to rest. 

Wozney said Druhan had provided a heads-up that the memo was coming, and he praised the minister for following through on the commitment to meet with the union and others in response to any concerns. 

"I don't envy the spot that the minister is in to try to navigate, to stickhandle the demands that she's facing," Wozney said in an interview.

"Despite it not starting well, I think it's worked out reasonably, respectfully and productively, and I hope Nova Scotians take courage in that.

"They've been waiting a long time for government and union to actually find ways to work together in a respectful way that benefits students and families, and that's what's happened here."

The request is in line with the collective agreement, said the union.

No longer feeling on their own

While classes returned to in-person learning last week, Emily Towns decided to keep her two school-aged children home out of concerns for her youngest child, who is too young to be vaccinated and has had repeated bouts of pneumonia.

Despite her children's love for being at school, Towns was preparing to home-school them when she was initially told school work would not be made available.

Now, Towns sees a situation where her kids will be able to keep up with their work until she feels comfortable sending them back to class.

"When we first made the decision to keep the kids home, it was kind of a send-your-kids-to-school-or-you're-on-your-own type of thing," she said in an interview.

"So certainly, having some form of work for them, some guidance, does make a big difference for us and makes it a lot easier in having made the decision to keep our kids home at the time."

Paul Wozney is the president of the Nova Scotia Teachers Union. (David Laughlin/CBC)

Wozney said the nuts and bolts of how students will receive work depends on factors including the student, the teacher, the situation, the subject and the grade.

"What's consistent in the mix is caring teachers work with parents with legitimate concerns to figure out a reasonable way to support students at a time they can't be in class," he said.

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With files from Taryn Grant

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