Nova Scotia

Strang hopes students stop gathering in big groups, says ticketing an option

As some Nova Scotia high school students gather unmasked in big groups outside of their schools, the province's top medical official says he wants to stick with an enforcement-light approach for COVID-19 rules, but that tickets could be issued.

High schools say they're working with staff, students and families to urge mask-wearing and distancing

Students gather outside a Halifax high school this week with few masks and little social distancing. (CBC)

As some Nova Scotia high school students gather unmasked in big groups outside of their schools, the province's top medical official says he wants to stick with an enforcement-light approach for COVID-19 rules, but that tickets could be issued.

Dr. Robert Strang said Public Health recommends wearing masks indoors for Grade 4 and up, and for all students on buses, but it doesn't require masks when students are outside. However, students are supposed to practice physical distancing when in big groups, as are all Nova Scotians. 

He said he's seen images of high school students gathering outside schools in large groups without masks and little social distancing. 

"This will be an ongoing challenge, but like with university students, our high school students we really need them to understand that they're part of a wider community and they need to take the same steps as everybody else to keep not just themselves safe, but to keep everyone safe," he said Friday. 

He noted that gathering in big groups is "technically" not permitted by the public health order. 

"But it's actually just not a smart thing to do during COVID."

Strang said if it becomes a problem in the fight against COVID-19, authorities could start ticketing high school students, as they've done with some university students who arrived from outside Atlantic Canada but didn't self-isolate for 14 days

"We always have the ability to work with our local law enforcement, like we've done with the universities. We can lay tickets under the public health order. But we want to take an education and co-operation approach first," he said. 

Schools ask families to reinforce distancing message

No COVID-19 cases have been reported at Nova Scotian schools, which resumed last week after a six-month hiatus caused by the pandemic.

Doug Hadley, spokesperson for the Halifax Regional Centre for Education, said the first week of school has gone well. 

"Generally speaking, students are doing a tremendous job adjusting to the public health measures that are in place to support the return to school," he said Tuesday.

He said school staff are reminding students about the public health directives such as social distancing, wearing masks and avoiding big gatherings. 

"Schools have been communicating with families to reinforce these expectations, especially when students are out of school — before school, at lunchtime and at the end of the day," Hadley said. 

"We believe asking families to take a few minutes to remind students that they have an important role to play in keeping our communities and schools safe will go a long way."

Deanna Gillis, spokesperson for the Strait Regional Centre for Education, said the return to school has gone well so far. 

"As with any changes to school routines, there is a transition period and our staff are working with students to remind them about all of the public health measures that are in place," she said.

"We will continue to educate and communicate with students and their families about the importance of following the public health measures, including the importance of wearing a mask."

A spokesperson for the Chignecto-Central Regional Centre for Education said things had gone well there too, and they reminded students to wear a mask and physically distance. 

Kristen Loyst, a spokesperson for the Annapolis Valley Regional Centre for Education, said the first week passed without any major problems. 

"Students and staff are in the process of transitioning back to school routines, as well as adapting to new public health protocols, after an extended time away," she said.

"It takes time at the beginning of the year for things to settle, and we know that communication is key to helping everyone understand expectations at school."

She said school staff are working with students and families to encourage them to follow all of the public health measures designed to keep everyone safe. 

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