What to expect on Nova Scotia's first day back to school during COVID-19
Thousands of students and staff return to schools for the first time since March break
It will look different in every classroom, but school is back in session.
Since the Nova Scotia government and Public Health laid out a back-to-school plan in July, some teachers, unions and parents have been airing concerns that include calls for smaller class sizes, inclusive supports and more time to prepare.
But the province and Public Health have repeatedly said measures like mandatory mask wearing for upper grades, less sharing, greater spacing between desks and more handwashing enables everyone to stay safe and in school.
For Drew Fournier, a French immersion teacher for a split Grade 4/5 class at Kingswood Elementary in Hammonds Plains, N.S., the biggest shift will be trying to keep kids engaged and working together while at their own desks staring at the front of the room.
"It's how do you get them to be able to communicate with each other, still try and have some sort of, like, team atmosphere or group atmosphere, without being able to really do a whole lot with the other students," he said.
The school day begins
On Tuesday, students will be dropped off by families or buses and are expected to go directly to their classrooms while keeping two metres of physical distance from each other.
Parents or guardians aren't allowed in the building to send off their kids.
Mingling with friends from other grades or classes isn't allowed.
In the younger grades, classes will act as cohorts, meaning the same children and staff stay together each day as a small bubble.
Everyone has to sanitize or wash their hands entering school, a move that will be repeated anytime they go for recess, lunch or other breaks. All students will be given two free masks.
There are no lockers this year, so students have to keep everything with them.
Kids in grades P-3 don't have to wear a mask, but those in grades 4-12 do the vast majority of the time.
All students who travel by bus, regardless of their grade, have to wear a mask while on the bus.
The classrooms have been equipped with bottles of hand sanitizer and a pump attachment they will set out in front of their doors when handwashing isn't possible.
Classes are back with regular cap sizes and desks are supposed to be spaced at least one metre apart, but teachers across the province have shared photos of how that isn't always possible.
Fournier has 25 kids in his class and there's just over a metre of distance between each desk. That means he and his students will need to wear masks while in the classroom, since they can only be removed when people are two metres apart.
Since the new rules say sharing must be limited, students can only use their own sets of school supplies or math tools like blocks.
Art and music classes are also going to be coming into each classroom at Kingswood rather than kids visiting a separate space, but Fournier said that might also differ from school to school.
The back-to-school plan says that gym classes will be held outdoors as often as possible, and activities that require students to come into contact with one another "will be limited."
More use of technology
Teachers at Fournier's school in the upper elementary grades have decided they will try and use technology like computer tablets more often, so students can all work on a Google Doc together at the same time and see what others are contributing.
The province has spent $4 million on purchasing 14,000 computers so far to ensure kids have equal access to using the internet from home. But Fournier said in most schools the computers or tablets are shared, so they might not have constant access.
Outdoor class time
The province has encouraged teachers to take their classes outside as much as possible, so they don't have to be masked and it's healthier for everyone.
Fournier said their school is lucky to have fields surrounding it, and a specific outdoor classroom with tree trunks for seats and a whiteboard created with community help.
But for schools in urban areas, he said getting outside for class might be difficult or impossible.
Lunch and recess
There will be staggered lunch, class and recess times to cut down on the amount of student interaction.
Once outside, students can take off their masks. They also don't have to wear them during indoor physical activity, when they are eating and drinking, or if they can keep two metres of distance in hallways and other common areas.
Food programs and lunch will be delivered to students in their own classrooms.
'Lack of consistency'
When the pandemic broke out this spring and Nova Scotia teachers scrambled to put together online learning plans, Fournier said the biggest complaint he heard from parents was how different it was from school to school — and he's concerned that might happen again in the reopening.
Since Fournier said the province's plan is left vague in an attempt to apply to all schools, there will be "a complete and utter lack of consistency" from building to building and often from class to class.
"It is definitely not normal, but I guess it's going to be their new normal. And who knows for how long it's going to go," he said.
But, he said as long as parents have some flexibility and understand one kid's class might be different from their siblings, every single teacher is making a huge effort to make students feel safe and happy.
"That is the ultimate goal," he said.