Nova Scotia

Nova Scotia's back-to-school plan gets mix of approval, concern from parents

Nova Scotia's decision to send children back to public schools amid the COVID-19 Omicron wave has been met with different reactions from parents across the province.

Lack of contact tracing concerning to some parents

Students will be headed back into the classroom on Jan. 10, a decision that has some parents uncomfortable and others relieved. (Robert Short/CBC)

Nova Scotia's decision to send children back to public schools amid the COVID-19 Omicron wave has been met with different reactions from parents across the province.

Education Minister Becky Druhan announced Tuesday that the holiday break would be extended by a few days to Jan. 10 to allow families extra time to monitor for COVID-19 symptoms and book vaccine appointments.

Druhan said it would also give schools time to ensure classrooms are safe by removing extra furniture to allow for more space and ensuring staff are up to date on the latest Public Health protocols.

Some parents feel students shouldn't be headed back into the classroom just yet, while others are supportive of the government's plan.

Cindy Robichaud said she won't have any issues sending her 14-year-old daughter to Bayview Community School in Mahone Bay, N.S.

'School is a controlled environment'

She said she feels comfortable with the safeguards the government is imposing, including masking and not allowing non-essential visitors.

"The school is a controlled environment, so I will know who she's around and we know what kids she's with and the teachers and staff," said Robichaud, noting her daughter is double vaccinated.

Robichaud said if people feel safe enough to go out to the grocery store or shopping, they should feel safe sending their children to school. 

She added she has complete confidence in Public Health.

"If they didn't feel that it was safe for the kids to be going back to school, they would not be letting the kids go back," she said.

Amy Grace isn't as convinced.

'Flying blind'

Grace, whose six-year-old daughter attends Basinview Elementary School in Bedford, N.S., said she's concerned about the lack of contact tracing in school cases going forward.

"That was my one kind of safeguard for my decision-making skills so I could send her to school and take into account what I understood was going on in my community," said Grace in a phone interview on Wednesday.

"Now we're flying blind at this point."

Grace said she was also troubled by Strang's comments about how symptoms of COVID-19 are generally mild in children. She said while that may be true, it doesn't take into consideration the child's family members.

"There's an 83-year-old in the family that's quite close with us and so do I have to not see our support system? That's a hard decision to even look at," said Grace, adding her daughter only has one dose of vaccine.

Grace said she will be keeping her child out of school for now, but realizes others families can't make that same choice as easily. 

She said there should be more options for people who don't feel comfortable sending their children back to school, and feels the government's approach is "one size fits all."

Dr. Robert Strang, Nova Scotia's chief medical officer of health, fields a question at a COVID-19 briefing in Halifax on Tuesday, Dec. 7, 2021. (Andrew Vaughan/The Canadian Press)

Strang said during the briefing on Tuesday that the best place for students is in schools, but he understands some parents won't agree with the decision.

"I know this shift will be difficult, but it is the right path forward," he said.

"None of this is easy and COVID has not been easy, but our fundamental point, we've always said, we need to balance restrictions with the impact of restrictions."

He also noted that the negative impacts of children and youth not being in school are substantive, well-established and "need to play a major factor." Schools have remained open for most of the pandemic. 

Three-ply masks to be distributed

Nova Scotia has been gripped by a spike in new COVID-19 cases over the past two weeks, with a high of 689 new cases reported on Dec. 23. On Wednesday, 24 people were in hospital with the virus. 

When classes resume, the province says there will be no large assemblies or events and strict cohorting will be implemented. 

All staff and students will be given a three-ply cloth mask, and all students will be advised to wear them or an equivalent. 

The province plans to distribute more rapid tests to students, based on supply availability from the federal government. More information will be provided to families the week of Jan. 4.

Strang said vaccinating children and anyone who is eligible for a booster is an important protection for kids, adding that about 40 per cent of eligible five- to 11-year-olds in the province have not had their first shot. 

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Aly Thomson

Reporter/Editor

Aly Thomson is an award-winning journalist based in Halifax who loves helping the people of her home province tell their stories. She is particularly interested in issues surrounding justice, education and the entertainment industry. You can email her with tips and feedback at aly.thomson@cbc.ca.

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