Many Dartmouth-area schools to close for 2 weeks after COVID-19 spike
Starting April 23, masks will be mandatory for students in all grades at all N.S. schools
More than two dozen schools in the Dartmouth area will be closed for two weeks and the students will shift to at-home learning, Nova Scotia Premier Iain Rankin said Thursday.
Starting Friday, the following school groups will be closed:
Auburn Drive High family of schools.
Cole Harbour District High family of schools.
Dartmouth High family of schools.
École secondaire Mosaïque.
École du Carrefour.
All other public schools in the province will continue with in-school learning. But starting Friday, students from pre-Primary to Grade 12 will have to wear masks at school. Previously, it had been only Grade 4 and up.
Families should receive more information from their schools or regional centre for education.
All school gyms in the restricted Halifax area will be closed for community use until at least May 20.
'Schools, by and large, are safe,' says Strang
Dr. Robert Strang, Nova Scotia's chief medical officer of health, said COVID-19 is spreading in the communities around the schools, not in the schools themselves.
"Schools are not the place where disease is, by and large, being spread," Strang said. "Schools are at risk if there's a high degree of activity in the community.
"Schools, by and large, are safe."
He said when there is a positive case at a school, the person self-isolates, their close contacts are identified, and the school is closed and cleaned. Strang said if another school and community show high case counts in the coming days, Public Health will close those schools too.
"I know that none of this is welcome news, but unfortunately restrictions are needed."
He didn't say if the cases involved students or staff.
"Where possible, children and youth need to be in school for their education, social and emotional development, and mental health," Strang said. "We've done an amazing job at keeping children and youth in school all year. There are certainly not many jurisdictions in Canada that can say that."
He said contract tracing at schools has mostly produced negative results, meaning outbreaks aren't happening in the schools.
He said they have no plans to make special vaccination arrangements for teachers, but pointed out that by the middle of May, everyone 40 and older will be able to get immunized.
"In the coming weeks, teachers along with everyone else will get an opportunity to get vaccinated."
New cases announced
Five new COVID-19 cases in schools were reported in a news release late Thursday.
Dartmouth South Academy and Ross Road School have one case each. They were included in a list of schools released earlier in the day that are closed to in-person learning for a two-week period.
Holland Road Elementary has one case and will remain closed until April 28. Students will switch to at-home learning until it reopens.
Another case is connected to St. Catherine's Elementary in Halifax. The school will be closed for a deep cleaning until April 28.
A case has also been identified at St. Joseph's-Alexander McKay Elementary, which is already closed because of a previous case and is expected to reopen on April 26.
The five new cases were reported after the cut-off for daily reporting and were not included in Nova Scotia's COVID-19 figures for Thursday. They will be included in Friday's COVID-19 reporting.
Public Health recommended all students and staff at the affected schools get tested.
Union says teachers should work from home
Paul Wozney, president of the Nova Scotia Teachers Union, questioned why the Prince Andrew High School family of schools in Dartmouth remains open, despite a positive test in an elementary school.
"Why would you leave that wide open to in-person learning at a time that you're trying to limit movement around the community?" he said.
Wozney said teachers welcomed the new masking policy.
"It should have been mandatory for all grades, going back to the beginning of the school year, for all people," he said, other than for those with medical exemptions.
But Wozney said the province should send a stronger message to parents and students that they must wear masks while at school, rather than rely on teachers to enforce it.
He also said teachers should be prioritized for vaccines and should be able to work from home during the shutdown.
He questioned the wisdom of telling everyone in the Halifax area to stay home outside of essential trips, and then telling teachers to go to school.
"Many of these teachers are perfectly capable of delivering online learning from their homes," he said. "Teachers should have the option to work from home."
Following Public Health advice
Education Minister Derek Mombourquette said the department is in "lockstep" with Public Health.
He said the Prince Andrew school family has seen just one case so far, so that specific school was closed and cleaned and then reopened.
"We're going to continue to monitor that family of schools, as we are with every family of schools in Halifax. We'll act very quickly if we need to, but based on Public Health's recommendations right now, the decision was not to close the PA family of schools."
Mombourquette said most public servants will continue to work at the workplace, including his department.
"Teachers have a lot of supports within the classroom. They also have the opportunity to provide proper distancing within their work environment," he said.
He said they will monitor the situation.
with files from Michael Gorman