Nova Scotia

Masks to remain optional in Nova Scotia schools this fall

On Wednesday morning, the province announced that students returning to school in September will be able to enjoy field trips, sports, clubs, and well-being activities. It said masks will be available for students who choose to wear them.

Province says students will return to regular activities in September

Nova Scotia lifted mandatory masking in schools in May. (Shutterstock/Syda Productions)

Masks will continue to be optional at Nova Scotia schools this fall.

On Wednesday, the province announced that students returning to school in September will be able to enjoy field trips, sports, clubs, and well-being activities.

It said masks will be available for students who choose to wear them. Schools will continue to have hand sanitizer, and high-touch surfaces will be cleaned regularly. 

"This is an exciting time of year for students, especially now with a return of extra-curricular that are so vital to the education experience. As always, we keep safety and the health of our students and staff as our highest priority and will remain in close contact with Public Health," said Becky Druhan, minister of Education and Early Childhood Development, in a press release.

"We finished strong in June, and we plan to pick up where we left off." 

Masking at school became optional in May

Different protocols for post-secondary

Post-secondary institutions across the province have taken a range of positions on masking requirements as some chose to require students to wear masks in classrooms and labs this fall while others have let students and staff decide.

"There's all sorts of ways in which those systems are different, and I really can't speak to the reasons why individual post-secondary institutions are making the decisions that they're making," Druhan said during a press conference on Wednesday. 

"What I can say is we work closely with Public Health to make the right decisions for our P to 12 students and we saw that we finished the school year very strong and we're starting with the same measures in place."

Public Health contradiction?

Nova Scotia Liberal Leader Zach Churchill said it's time Nova Scotians heard from the province's Chief Medical Officer of Health Robert Strang. He says the different approaches from universities and public schools is contradictory.

"I've heard the premier and the minister of education say they're taking advice from Public Health and then we heard universities who are bringing in a masking protocol that they're taking advice from Public Health," Churchill said.

"So who's taking advice from Public Health here? I think probably universities are most likely more in line based on what I know about Public Health and the risk tolerance."

In July, Strang announced that Nova Scotia had lifted all remaining community COVID-19 restrictions, including mandatory masking and isolation. 

Premier Tim Houston says Strang should state clearly what his office recommended when it comes to COVID 19 protections.

Michelle Thompson, minister of Health and Wellness, said she wasn't involved with the decision to keep masks optional in schools. "That's been directly with Public Health and education," she said. "I have faith in my Public Health and education colleagues."

Public Health response

There are no plans to set up COVID-19 vaccination clinics at public schools, Thompson said during the press conference. According to data from the province, as of Monday there were still 36.9 per cent of children aged five to 11 who haven't had a shot.

"Public Health is responsible for the direction of vaccination in Nova Scotia," Druhan said. "If they're looking to make use of school resources to support any of their efforts, we work closely with them to make that happen."

A spokesperson for Nova Scotia's Health and Wellness department told CBC News in an email that it is working with the education department and schools to keep students safe and that Public Health is recommending Nova Scotians "make the individual choice to wear masks when in crowded, indoor places and to follow other public health measures."

"Public Health has not made a recommendation to post-secondary institutions to require the use of masks but acknowledges that organizations and businesses have the ability to create their own mask mandate," the statement read in part.

Ryan Lutes, president of the Nova Scotia Teachers Union, says some teachers will like the masking decision but others will not.

"I'm not surprised by it because that's where we finished last school year," Lutes said.

"I was teaching last year and certainly a big chunk of time was spent on mask enforcement and when the mandatory mask requirement came off in May, that was certainly something that came off teachers' plates." 

The province said it plans to roll out a new physical activity framework this year to encourage students to eat healthy and become more active.

Schools will continue to receive a $5,000 healthy living grant from the province to encourage physical and mental health activities.

With files from Jean Laroche and Paul Palmeter

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