Nova Scotia’s decision to send children back to public schools in the midst of the COVID-19 Omicron wave has met with mixed reactions from parents across the province.
Education Minister Becky Druhan announced on Tuesday that the holiday break would be extended by a few days until January 10 to give families extra time to monitor for COVID-19 symptoms and order vaccine appointments.
Druhan said it would also give schools time to ensure classrooms are safe by removing extra furniture to provide more space and ensuring staff are updated on the latest public health protocols.
Some parents feel that students should not go back to the classroom yet, while others support the government’s plan.
Cindy Robichaud said she would have no problem sending her 14-year-old daughter to Bayview Community School in Chester, NS
‘School is a controlled environment’
She said she feels comfortable with the security measures the government imposes, including masking and not allowing non-essential visitors.
“The school is a controlled environment, so I know who she’s around and we know what kids she’s with and the teachers and staff,” Robicaud said, noting that her daughter is double-vaccinated.
Robichaud said that if people feel safe enough to go out to the grocery store or shop, they should feel safe sending their children to school.
She added that she has full confidence in public health.
“If they did not feel it was safe for the children to go back to school, they would not let the children go back,” she said.
Amy Grace is not so convinced.
Grace, whose six-year-old daughter attends Basinview Elementary School in Bedford, NS, said she is concerned about the lack of contact tracking in school cases going forward.
“It was my only form of security for my decision-making skills so I could send her to school and take into account what I understood was going on in my community,” Grace said in a phone interview Wednesday.
“Now we’re flying blind at this point.”
Grace said she was also concerned about Strang’s comments about how mild COVID-19 symptoms are in children. She said that while it may be true, it does not take into account the child’s family members.
“There’s an 83-year-old in the family who’s pretty close to us, and then I have to not see our support system? It’s a difficult decision to look at at all,” Grace said, adding that her daughter has only one dose of vaccine.
Grace said she wants to keep her child out of school for now, but realizes that other families can not make the same choice just as easily.
She said there should be more opportunities for people who do not feel safe sending their children back to school, and believes the government’s approach is “one size fits all.”
Strang said during the briefing Tuesday that the best place for students is in schools, but he understands that some parents will not agree with the decision.
“I know this shift is going to be difficult, but it’s the right way forward,” he said.
“None of this is easy, and COVID has not been easy, but our basic point, we have always said we need to balance restrictions with the impact of restrictions.”
He also noted that the negative consequences of children and young people not being in school are significant, well-established and “must play an important factor.” Schools have been open for most of the pandemic.
Three-layer stitches must be distributed
Nova Scotia has been gripped by an increase in new COVID-19 cases over the past two weeks, with a maximum of 689 new cases reported on 23 December. On Wednesday, 24 people were hospitalized with the virus.
When teaching resumes, the province says there will be no major gatherings or events and that strict co-ordination will be implemented.
All staff and students will be given a three-layer fabric mask, and all students will be advised to wear them or equivalent.
The province plans to distribute faster tests to students, based on availability from the federal government. More information will be given to families during the week of January 4th.
Strang said vaccination of children and anyone eligible for a booster is an important protection for children, adding that about 40 percent of eligible five- to 11-year-olds in the province have not received their first shot.