Masks now mandatory in Grade 4 and up

Children's face masks on school hooks
Ed Halverson - QCCR - LiverpoolNS | 15-08-2020

All students in Grade 4 and older will be required to wear masks when school reopens in the fall.

Education and Early Childhood Development Minister Zach Churchill says masks will need to be worn inside schools anytime students are not sitting at their desks, separated by two metres from other students and facing the same direction.

The minister couldn’t say how many students may have to leave masks on all day because a lack of space in their classrooms.

“I don’t have that information for you but our regional centres of education, our schools know where they’re able to do that and where they’re not able to do that,” says Churchill. “Orders have been given to school communities to maximize space in our classrooms by removing unnecessary furniture, clutter, anything.”

Every student returning to class in September will also receive two cloth masks and are encouraged to bring their own.

If a student forgets their mask, they can receive a disposable one from the school office.

Churchill says anyone with a valid medical reason for not wearing a mask will not have to do so, but they will also not have to produce any documentation to be exempted.

He says in the case of schools, any students with persistent medical conditions are already known to staff for other reasons.

The province’s chief medical officer of health Dr. Robert Strang says people within the school community will be notified if a case of COVID-19 is detected.

Anyone testing positive for the coronavirus will have to quarantine for 14 days along with any of their close contacts.

When asked if an entire class would have to self-isolate if a case is detected, Strang says that would depend on his department’s assessment of who the person has come into contact with while they were infectious.

“I think people need to understand, that that assessment is what public health does, we’ve done with every single COVID-19 case. We do this all the time with a full range of notifiable diseases. For each disease, the period of time when that person could have been infectious and able to spread to others, we understand in detail all their activities and what would have put other people at risk and then we take appropriate measures. It’s that same approach around COVID-19 in a school,” says Strang.

Nova Scotia Minister of Education and Early Childhood Development Zach Churchill speaks at a press conference August 14 2020

Minister of Education and Early Childhood Development Zach Churchill. Photo: Nova Scotia Government

Churchill also announced $40 million in provincial funding to hire more teachers and cleaning staff as well as supplies.

He says every school in the province is currently being assessed to determine if their ventilation systems and windows can adequately circulate the air in the buildings to help prevent the transmission of COVID-19

The minister has committed to ensuring those that need to be improved will receive the proper attention.

Plan to hire unqualified substitutes upsets teachers union

As part of Friday’s announcement, the education minister says close to $30 million of the $40 million in new funding will be used to hire substitute teachers.

To find that many substitutes, the minister says he will exercise tri-partite agreements in place between the department, regional centres for education and the Nova Scotia Teachers Union to hire people without a bachelor of education degree.

“We’re using those as the basis those to go outside of the B Ed requirement for substitute teachers, and bring in other qualified people who might not have a B Ed because at the end of the day, we need to have people in school to run our schools,” says Churchill. “If we are facing a risk of less people being there because of COVID, we need to be prepared to meet that demand in our schools.”

President of the Nova Scotia Teachers Union Paul Wozney says the only places where the tri-partite agreement was approved in the last 15 years are the CSAP and Tri-Counties regions.

Requests for a tri-partite agreement made by the province's two largest regional centres, Halifax and Chignecto last year were turned down by the union, according to Wozney.

He agrees more substitutes will need to be hired to meet the demand but says putting an adult in front of a classroom requires more than having two feet and a heartbeat.

“But really, that feeds the notion of public school as babysitting and not a place where meaningful learning occurs,” says Wozney. “That’s a slap in the face to everybody who is qualified to teach in this province, who have spent a lifetime being properly educated and trained to make sure kids have the best public education possible.”

Wozney says the move is also a slap in the face to substitute teachers across the province who are equally as qualified as their full-time colleagues.

While the education minister is assuring teachers that qualified personnel will be hired before unqualified staff, Wozney isn’t so sure.

“Because we all know principals are going to be run off feet, starting September 8, to find people to cover for teachers who are sick and displaying symptoms. It’s entirely plausible that fully qualified substitutes are going to lose work to unqualified substitutes as a matter of convenience for the school system,” says Wozney.

The NSTU president calls the entire situation an incredibly slippery slope for his members.

Churchill couldn’t say what qualifications a substitute without a B Ed would need to have, referring the matter to the local regional centres.

A call to the south shore regional centre for education went unreturned before the time of this report.

Reported by Ed Halverson 
Twitter: @edwardhalverson