Nova Scotia public schools closed to students outside Canada this fall

A photo of a ball on empty playground
Ed Halverson - QCCR - LiverpoolNS | 25-08-2020

The province has decided because of COVID-19 precautions, only international students currently living in Nova Scotia can return to public schools this fall.

International students coming from outside Canada will not be admitted into public schools this September even if the student has a valid visa.

The decision from the Department of Education was revealed in an email sent out late Friday afternoon.

The news came as a surprise to parents like Heather Kelly who are expecting their students to arrive in the next week or so.

“He’s booked his ticket, his plane ticket and he has a visa,” said Kelly. “They can’t refuse him if he has a visa to come here and nobody’s been in touch with him about cancelling his visa.”

Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada, the federal agency responsible for approving student visas, had previously said anyone holding a student visa issued before March 18 would be permitted to return to classes in Nova Scotia this fall.

The Nova Scotia International Student Program (NSISP) submitted a plan to public health for arriving students to quarantine at a hotel away from their host families for 14 days.

The proposed measures are in line with those in place for university and college students announced Thursday by premier Stephen McNeil. Post-secondary students coming to the province are required to self-isolate for 14 days and undergo COVID-19 testing three times during that period.

Kelly can’t understand why the two groups are being treated differently.

“I’d understand if they weren’t allowing anybody in. But the fact that they’re allowing in other university students from international, it just doesn’t seem, I don’t know what possibly could be the rationale for that,” said Kelly.

The department of education and early childhood development has not commented why the two groups of students are being treated differently.


Program lead left in the dark

NSISP Executive Director Paul Millman was just as surprised as anyone to learn the students weren’t going to be coming this year.

“As recently as Monday, we were under the impression that the kids were going to be able to come,” said Millman. “Our plans were in place. On Monday it was all a go. On Friday it was a no-go. I don’t know what changed.”

Millman says they were on track to welcome 1,300 international students to the province when the pandemic broke in February

About 10 per cent of those or 130 remained in Nova Scotia and will be going to class this fall, 13 of those, on the South Shore.

He says 775 ISP students who were meant to arrive in September will now have to make other arrangements.

“It’s tough, these are kids that have been with us for a long time, some of them. And they don’t have home schools to go to anymore because they’ve withdrawn completely from the school systems in their country and have been committed to Nova Scotia for multiple years,” said Millman. “ It’s not like they can just change their minds and go back.”

Millman says Nova Scotia joins Newfoundland as the only two provinces in the country not accepting international students in their public schools this year.


Students scrambling to find schools

Rene Bourgeois, a recruiter who has been bringing international students to Nova Scotia from Thailand since 2008, also received the letter late Friday and has several questions

“The number one is, there’s no consistency. Why are you not letting the international kids come to public high school when they can go to a university or a private high school? Two, they told everybody go home, those with visas and valid study permits can come back. How do I tell a Thai parent, well Nova Scotia, your kid has a visa that’s good to September 2021. They can go to BC but they can’t go to Nova Scotia. And then, there’s the lateness of it. It’s just about the twelfth hour,” said Bourgeois.

He warns there will be an immediate economic impact to public schools and their communities.

“The program’s about $18,000 a year to the province, of which, $9,000 is tuition and the other $9,000 would be say, home-stay and insurance,” said Bourgeois. “But kids are probably spending three to five hundred dollars a month.”

Many Nova Scotians have expressed the desire to keep the province’s borders closed until the country and the world gets a handle on the pandemic.

Unfortunately, that leaves some international students out in the cold.

Bourgeois says one of the reasons many students decide to take high school in this province is to be able to apply to local universities as a Nova Scotia high school graduate. He fears universities will lose out on this group of students as they may now look elsewhere when they graduate.

“Nova Scotia has been a difficult sell. They’ve done a remarkable job considering most of the kids go from cities with two million [people] down to communities of 5,000,” said Bourgeois. “The whole program has been one of the best in Canada and I just never saw this coming.”

Bourgeois says it will be difficult in the near future to convince parents to send their children to Nova Scotia instead other locations in Canada because the situation was handled so poorly. He says it could take years for the province’s reputation to recover.

“And if you ruin a kid, well, she’s going to be on their version of our WhatsApp and they’re just going to trash the program. It will take three or four years to get the numbers back on, until the group of kids that are here now, that are being directly affected, until their friends, until they move on to university,” said Bourgeois.

Bourgeois shares Millman’s concerns about students losing a year of education because they’ve missed enrolment into their home country's school system.

The letter sent Friday from NSISP indicates international students may be able to take their courses online through the province’s Nova Scotia Virtual School. But Bourgeois is concerned there is no guarantee the program will be offered as the education department determines if there is enough demand.

Neither Regional Executive Director of the South Shore Regional Centre for Education Paul Ash nor Minister Zach Churchill replied to requests for comment for this story.

Millman says everyone expected there would be challenges returning students to class this fall.

“It doesn’t matter what we do this was going to be a tough year. But again, I think we’re all trying our best to make the best of a really bad situation and there’s some international students that have gotten caught up in all of this for, at this time at least, reasons unknown beyond the obvious of COVID-19,” said Millman.

A spokesperson for the department of education says a decision on whether or not to allow international students to return in February will be made in December.

Reported by Ed Halverson 
Twitter: @edwardhalverson

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