When students return to classes this fall, they will see hand-washing stations, signs promoting good hygiene, more physical separation in the classroom and for high schools, mandatory mask use in hallways and common areas.
Nova Scotia’s Chief Medical Officer of Health Dr. Robert Strang and Minister of Education and Early Childhood Development Zach Churchill unveiled the long-awaited reopening plan Wednesday.
It follows the principles laid out by Strang to prevent the spread of COVID-19 such as frequent hand washing, social distancing and mask use.
As with public transit, it will be mandatory for students and drivers on school buses to wear masks this fall.
Students will need to wash their hands before entering the school or classroom.
Desks will be rearranged in the classroom, but will not have to meet the two-meter social distancing rules.
Strang says the distancing can be less because of the other measures that in place throughout the school.
Should a case of COVID-19 be discovered in a school, Strang says parents will be notified by e-mail or telephone, following the procedure the health department already has in place to deal with any other communicable disease.
Strang says his department has not established any set targets that would automatically trigger the closing of a school.
“We need to look at the individual circumstances around those cases, around the unique environments that maybe happen between one school and another and apply appropriate measures.”
Strang says the health department is changing its approach to how it deals with COVID-19 flaring up in different areas of the province.
Strang says instead of issuing blanket orders for all of Nova Scotia, he will now look to assess and create policy specific to the area affected by the coronavirus.
That means Public Health may advise one school or a family of schools to close and the school may stay open if there is no reason to close.
Should the number of COVID-19 cases increase, the province may require Grades 9 to 12 students to learn from home while younger children in pre-primary to Grade 8 will learn in school in smaller classrooms.
What the education department is calling a blended learning model aims to keep younger children in school but reduce class sizes to enable everyone to be socially distanced by two meters.
And depending on the severity of the outbreak, the restrictions may apply to a single school, family of schools or entire school regions.
Minister Churchill understands there will be staff members with pre-existing conditions who feel they can’t work because they are immune-compromised.
“Obviously no one is going to lose their job if they have a health issue or if they get sick while they’re teaching. They standard approach to that isn’t going to change.”
Churchill says additional protective equipment will be provided to staff by the education department if they request it.
Most school sports will resume according to guidelines established by the health department and the Nova Scotia School Athletic Federation.
School clubs and music programs will also resume but assemblies and school concerts are cancelled and parent teacher interviews will be held either online or over the phone.
Grades will be given out and report cards will be issued as normal.
Strang says the epidemiology shows virus activity remains very low in the province and keeping everyone locked down isn’t good for anyone.
“We know that our children need to be in school not only for their academic learning, but also for their overall development and their emotional and psychological health. We also know that parents have faced significant challenges since schools closed in March.”
Schools are set to open September 8.
Reported by Ed Halverson