Work is underway in Nova Scotia schools to get classrooms ready for students to return next week.
Monday was the first day back to school for students after an extended holiday break, but it’s online only.
The province is using this week to secure more masks and rapid tests, and equip dozens of classrooms with upgraded ventilation systems so schools are better able to deal with COVID-19.
“All of the students will be receiving and have available to them three-ply cloth masks, so it’s a refresher of the masks they were provided with previously, and those are in stock and ready to go,” Education Minister Becky Druhan told CBC Radio’s Mainstreet Halifax on Monday.
Druhan said surgical masks for teachers who wish to use them will also be available.
When it comes to testing, Druhan said her department is taking the lead from Public Health and is awaiting direction on how to best use rapid tests in schools.
The province is installing portable HEPA filtration systems in schools that rely on windows and doors for ventilation. Portable units will be installed in every classroom and all common and confined areas where students gather.
“This was a step we took for the comfort confidence of those folks that said, ‘I would feel better if these were in place,’ so that was really a reason for taking this step,” Druhan said.
A spokesperson for Druhan’s department said the majority of those units have been delivered and they are expected to be installed before in-person learning resumes Jan. 17. The filters work by capturing airborne particles, including some viruses, and enhancing natural ventilation.
The province does not plan on having booster clinics for school staff.
A spokesperson for Nova Scotia’s Department of Health and Wellness said the province will continue to take an age-based approach for administering boosters.
1st day back with online learning
Sarah White of Lantz said the first day back to school with online learning was “a little chaotic,” but that she and her two children, aged five and seven, got through it.
One of the biggest challenges, White said, was getting her youngest child comfortable with online learning since it was her first time. White said she is using vacation days to help support her children’s learning this week.
“I’m lucky that I have some vacation time to do that and I have a very supportive workplace to make that happen, because otherwise I would probably be pretty stressed out,” White said.
Kim Bulger of Dartmouth also has two children, six and 10. She said she worries if they’re doing right by their children with regard to extracurricular activities — going and risking an exposure, or not going and missing out.
“At the end of the day, we just do worry are we making the right decisions and are we finding the correct balance?” she said.
Bulger said she would like to know what will happen if there aren’t enough teachers available because of COVID-19 once in-class learning resumes, and how changes will be communicated to parents.
Druhan said there are “a number of tools” to deal with staffing absences, including relying on available educators from other parts of the school or elsewhere in the region.
“We have educators with schools who aren’t assigned classrooms on a day-to-day basis and there is some flexibility there to move them into classrooms,” said the minister.
“We’re going to do everything we can to keep the schools open.”
In the event that an entire classroom has been exposed, Druhan said further direction would be communicated to parents.
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