Nova Scotia

N.S. class sizes could shrink this fall because of COVID-19, says minister

Education Minister Zach Churchill says his department is planning for possible reopening of classrooms this fall, and smaller class sizes are among the tools that might be used to protect against the coronavirus.

Education Department and public health officials pondering lower class caps to protect against viral spread

Zach Churchill is Nova Scotia's minister of education. (Craig Paisley/CBC)

Nova Scotia classrooms will remain empty for the rest of this school year, but the Education Department is pondering how to bring students and teachers back together in the fall while protecting against further spread of COVID-19.

Smaller class sizes, tape on the floor to guide physical distancing, face masks and hand-washing stations are among the tools Education Minister Zach Churchill said his department might use.

Churchill told CBC's Information Morning that his department and public health officials have not finalized a plan for reopening schools in the fall, but they are working on one, and "it very well might not be returning to normal."

Some elementary schools and daycares in Quebec started reopening earlier this week, and several European countries have also sent students and teachers back to classrooms.

Taking lessons from other jurisdictions

Churchill said the steps taken in other jurisdictions will inform Nova Scotia's approach.

"We'll have a real opportunity to watch them and see how it plays out and where they were successful and where they weren't."

In Quebec, school staff greet each student at the entrance with hand sanitizer and direct them to go straight to their desks with all their belongings to avoid crowding in hallways.

A classroom in Quebec the first week of reopening. Every student will have a box of books waiting on their desks, which they will not be allowed to share; the boxes will then be disinfected and put aside for several days. (Julia Page/CBC)

Students eat their lunches in classrooms and recesses are staggered. Classrooms are capped at 15 students and attendance is not mandatory.

Churchill acknowledged that physical distancing and strict hygiene guidelines could be more challenging for younger students to understand and follow. 

Concerns from educators

It's one of the issues that's been raised by Nova Scotia teachers who are nervous about how to keep schools safe when they eventually reopen.

Another of their concerns is that large gaps may be developing during at-home learning, while some students forge ahead with lessons and assignments and others lack the resources or support to do so.

Churchill said his department is preparing to deal with any gaps, come fall. There will be modules for teachers; and specialist teachers, speech pathologists and psychologists will be deployed for students who are lagging behind their peers.

But for now, Churchill said the focus is on providing material and support for students while they're at home.

Some teachers are connecting with students online, but Churchill said about 30 to 35 per cent of Nova Scotia students don't have high-speed internet. The Education Department will continue to provide non internet-based packages until June 5, the last day of the school year.