Back-to-school for third pandemic year

·3 min read

GUYSBOROUGH – Public school students will soon enter their third year under the mantle of COVID-19. On Aug. 24, the province announced that students returning to school in September will be able to participate in the full range of learning and well-being activities, including small-group instruction, band, clubs, sports and field trips.

“This is an exciting time of year for students, especially now with a return of extra-curriculars that are so vital to the education experience. As always, we keep safety and the health of our students and staff as our highest priority and will remain in close contact with Public Health,” said Becky Druhan, minister of Education and Early Childhood Development. “We finished strong in June, and we plan to pick up where we left off.”

The 2022-2023 Back -to School plan encourages schools, staff and students to embrace healthy habits, including getting vaccinated; staying home, if unwell; sanitizing hands and high-touch surfaces and creating a supportive environment for those who decide to wear a mask.

To facilitate student health and wellness, the province will again hand out more than $5,000 via a healthy living grant to every school, money that school advisory councils and principals can use to support physical and mental health activities or cultural awareness activities. Outdoor learning will be promoted, and enhanced online supports will be available for math, reading and writing.

A message to families from the Strait Regional Centre for Education (SRCE) issued the same day, Aug. 24, noted, “Schools will continue to have hand sanitizer available and masks for those who choose to wear them. High-touch surfaces will also continue to be cleaned regularly.”

SRCE Regional Executive Director of Education Paul Landry stated in the message, “I also want to reinforce our commitment to Nova Scotia’s Inclusive Education Policy. There will continue to be a focus on equity by supporting students who are historically marginalized and racialized (African Nova Scotian and Mi’kmaw students) or who come from other groups that have been traditionally under-represented and under-served. This includes but is not limited to those struggling with poverty, students with disabilities, and LGBTQ2S++ students.”

Nova Scotia Liberal Leader Zach Churchill, who formerly held the ministerial portfolio of education under the Stephen McNeil government, is among those questioning the lack of a mask mandate in public schools – especially when universities say they're taking advice from Public Health in implementing masking protocols.

At a press conference on Aug. 26, Nova Scotia’s Chief Medical Officer of Health, Dr. Robert Strang, clarified the situation. He said, “We feel that a mandate for wearing masks in public schools is not necessary and given where we’re at with all the factors that we take into account, it was certainly consistent among my Medical Officer of Health team, and I certainly agree with this, that it’s not needed to have a mandated use of masks in public schools at this time…I know it’s come up about universities, we did not make a recommendation to universities around their policy. Those are their independent policy decisions but they’re following the Public Health recommendation which has not changed, which is recommend wearing masks in indoor public places for all Nova Scotians…Universities made their own independent decisions on that which we support.”

Students return to classes across the province on Tuesday, Sept. 6.

Lois Ann Dort, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Guysborough Journal