Masks to remain in N.S. schools until at least May 20
Impact of Omicron in schools 'staggering' right now, says teachers' union president
Masks will continue to be required in Nova Scotia schools until at least the long weekend in May, the provincial government announced Wednesday.
Students, staff, service providers, volunteers and visitors must wear masks during school instructional hours and on school buses.
Education Minister Becky Druhan said the department has been working with Public Health to ensure that decisions help keep kids safe and schools open.
She acknowledged there are benefits to attending school without masks, such as seeing the faces of students and teachers, and helping with social and language development.
"We understand there are a lot of mixed emotions about this. Really, it's about balancing interests," Druhan said.
"This extension to the May long weekend gives us another opportunity to weigh and balance those considerations and make a decision based on the current situation in COVID at the time."
The mask requirement in schools was initially supposed to be lifted after the March Break. That date was then pushed to mid-April.
The decision will be reassessed closer to May 20, the Friday before the Victoria Day weekend, the province said.
'Schools are already on the razor's edge'
Paul Wozney, the president of the Nova Scotia Teachers Union, said when the mask mandate was introduced, there were hopes that the state of COVID-19 in the province would improve to a point where masks would no longer be needed in schools.
"But I think the reverse has happened. I think we've seen an explosive rise in the presence of COVID in our communities. And accordingly, we've never had more COVID in schools than we do right now," he said. "The impact of Omicron in schools right now is staggering."
Although Wozney said the school system stopped officially tracking COVID-19 cases in schools in November, he said he's hearing from teachers about classes with 40 per cent to 50 per cent of students absent and of difficulty finding substitutes to cover for teacher absences.
"Schools are already on the razor's edge of being able to stay open," he said. "I worry that we would be seeing a lot of local school-by-school closures if we were to lift this layer of protection in schools. There's just that much virus around in the community."
Despite the extra layer of protection that masking provides, Wozney said school staff are grappling with an uptick in masking resistance.
"Some of the bombastic rhetoric that we heard around the Ottawa convoy, teachers and school staff are starting to deal with that."
Anti-masking views are creating conflict between some families and schools, Wozney said.
"Because it's not a public health order, it does make it problematic. When people refuse to wear masks, it becomes a disciplinary issue.… It really puts school staff in a tough place."
With files from Michael Gorman and Amy Smith