Halifax student welcomes school closures, others call for more widespread action
'Our government should be stepping in here, the same as they did in Halifax,' says Cape Breton parent
A Grade 12 student in Halifax is welcoming the province's decision to close public schools in metro and surrounding areas for two weeks as cases of COVID-19 hit record highs.
It's a move some people want to see extended across the province.
Peter Kouzovnikov attends Halifax West High School and said many of his friends didn't show up Monday because they were concerned about the rising case count and community spread.
"A lot of people at home of course have loved ones who are immunocompromised or at high risk, and with this number of cases they really weren't comfortable coming to school," he said.
The province announced Monday that all public schools in the Halifax Regional Municipality and surrounding areas will close Tuesday and students will begin learning from home on Thursday.
This comes after 66 new cases of the virus were identified, bringing the total number of known active cases to 323. Thirty recent cases are connected to schools, mostly in the Halifax region.
Microbiology labs across the province processed 11,335 tests Sunday.
Dr. Robert Strang, the province's chief medical officer of health, said during Monday's briefing that a number of school staff in the Halifax region have either been diagnosed with COVID-19 or are self-isolating as they wait for test results.
"It's creating significant staffing and operational issues, which impact the ability to run schools safely," he told reporters.
Return to class will be reassessed May 7
The school closures are in place for at least two weeks, and the province said information about when students could return will be released May 7.
The closures involve pre-primary to Grade 12 public schools in the Halifax Regional Centre for Education. The following schools in the Enfield, Elmsdale and Mount Uniacke areas of the Chignecto Central Regional Centre for Education, as well as some Conseil scolaire acadian provincial schools will also close:
- École Bois-Joli, Dartmouth.
- École des Beaux-Marais, Porters Lake.
- École Beaubassin, Halifax.
- École du Carrefour, Dartmouth.
- École du Grand-Portage, Lower Sackville.
- École Mer et Monde, Halifax.
- École secondaire du Sommet, Halifax.
- École secondaire Mosaïque, Dartmouth.
- Enfield District Elementary, Enfield.
- Elmsdale District Elementary, Elmsdale.
- Hants East Rural High, Milford Station.
- Maple Ridge Elementary, Lantz.
- Riverside Education Centre, Milford.
- Uniacke District School, Mount Uniacke.
In addition to the school closures in the Halifax area, one school in Truro has closed, as well as three in the Sydney area. Those schools are closed until later this week for deep cleaning and contract tracing.
Premier Iain Rankin said no students in Cape Breton have tested positive, and there's no evidence of community spread.
"But I want to assure all parents and teachers and staff and students that we are watching this very carefully. We've added testing sites in the community, and we encourage everyone to get tested, including students," he said during Monday's briefing.
"I know you're worried in Cape Breton, but please know that we're monitoring to see what happens and we will act swiftly when required."
Cape Breton family calls for school closures
That's not good enough, said Lisa Bond.
She wants to know why the closures haven't extended outside the Halifax area given the cases at the three Sydney-area schools. She said the number of school cases could increase drastically like they did in Halifax last week.
She's also worried about hockey games in Membertou earlier this month that have been tied to a recent cluster of cases.
"Our government should be stepping in here, the same as they did in Halifax," Bond told CBC Radio's Mainstreet.
I'm really concerned about spreading it to other people.- Zavier Bond, Memorial High School student
She spoke with her two sons on Sunday night and they decided they would stay home from Memorial High School in Sydney Mines, even though the school remains open.
Zavier Bond, 14, said he's watching the exposure notices and case counts closely.
"I'm really concerned about spreading it to other people," he said.
Paul Wozney, president of the Nova Scotia Teachers Union, told CBC Radio's Maritime Noon earlier on Monday that he wants all schools to close for two weeks given the current situation in the province.
Education Minister Derek Mombourquette said he understands that parents in Cape Breton are nervous, but he added that the best place for kids is in the classroom.
"What I want to reiterate to people is that the plan that we have in place works," he said. "If we have a case, we shut down, we take all of the proper steps that are necessary for contact tracing. We do our deep clean and then we assess again to open the schools back up."
Mombourquette said if cases in the community increase, "we will act immediately."
Remote learning plan in place
Students in the Halifax region will begin learning from home on Thursday, and Mombourquette said improvements have been made since last spring.
The department received over 26,000 responses from families about their experience with at-home learning at the start of the pandemic, the minister said.
"We've been in conversations with the teachers union. Everybody's on the same page when it comes to ensuring we give the best experience possible to students as they transition to home learning," he said.
The province said teachers will follow at-home learning guidelines, which includes online instruction for students. Teachers also did a week of professional development training in January, which included teaching online, the province said.
Kouzovnikov said he's adapted to online learning in the past, and he can do it again. But he also worries about students who don't have the technology or resources at home.
It's a concern shared by the chief of pediatrics at the IWK Health Centre. Dr. Andrew Lynk said he supports the province's decision to close Halifax-area schools as long as the proper supports are in place.
"If it's just for two weeks, for the most part, it's probably not going to cause huge problems in the long run with learning. If it was longer, I would be concerned," he said.
Still, Lynk said he worries about students who rely on schools for healthy food and support they can't get at home.
"I am concerned with kids who are in high-risk social situations where they be subject to abuse, and that not being picked up," he said. "I am concerned with kids who get some of their mental health services at schools, but we are getting better at pivoting online with that, as well."
With files from Preston Mulligan and CBC Radio's Mainstreet and Maritime Noon