N.S. family wants masks back in classrooms to prevent kids from bringing viruses home

Some Nova Scotians are concerned that respiratory illnesses will continue to spread without a return to face masks in classrooms.  (Ben Nelms/CBC - image credit)
Some Nova Scotians are concerned that respiratory illnesses will continue to spread without a return to face masks in classrooms. (Ben Nelms/CBC - image credit)

Emily Scott of Annapolis Valley doesn't understand why nothing is being done to reduce the spread of respiratory infections in Nova Scotia schools.

Her son Ethan is now eight and was just five when the pandemic began.

To make her situation even more stressful, her husband Wayde was diagnosed with leukemia 10 months into the pandemic.

Scott said the family had to make some changes once her husband was diagnosed in case he was exposed to infections like COVID-19 or influenza.

Submitted by Emily Scott
Submitted by Emily Scott

She said schools were holding classes online at the time so it was easier for the family to avoid exposure.

Son has come home sick

With the return to in-person learning, the situation has changed, Scott said, and her son has come home sick several times and spread it to her and her husband.

She said Ethan and his teacher are the only people in class wearing masks despite visibly ill children attending class.

"This level of illness with COVID and children throughout the pandemic,  we never saw any of this, and yet we closed down schools," Scott said.

"We made our children mask up and now it's completely out of control and we're not doing anything. So how does that make sense?"

She said she knows some parents cannot afford to stay home from work when their children are sick, but she thinks the majority of parents can and choose not to.

Scott said the family doesn't see their friends, and even has groceries and medication delivered so the only possible disease vector for them is the school.

Masking remains optional

Any hopes Scott has for a return to masking in the classroom were dashed by Education Minister Becky Druhan on Thursday at post-cabinet meeting news conference.

Druhan told reporters the government worked with guidance from public health experts who recommended that masking in classrooms remain optional.

There are ways for the needs of people in specific situations to be addressed, Druhan said.

"Administrators have experience working with families to support individual needs," she said.

"For families who do have children with those needs, we encourage them to continue working with the regions to have those addressed.

Schools 'stretched thin'

The president of the Nova Scotia Teachers Union, Ryan Lutes,  told CBC Nova Scotia News host Tom Murphy on Wednesday that schools were "stretched thin" before the pandemic and the situation has only worsened.

Lutes said the rate of masking in schools is very low and he would be surprised if it was more than five per cent.

The union supported Chief Medical Officer Dr. Robert Strang's recommendation that masks continue to be worn in crowded indoor spaces, Lutes said.

Lutes said if public health officials recommended a return to masking in classrooms, the union would support it.

For parents like Scott, a return to masking cannot come soon enough and she's hoping public health authorities are guided by data and not by those people opposed to masks.

"Dr. Strang needs to read what the teachers and the parents are saying and take action," she said.

"This is unacceptable. Just because a few people are going to kick and scream like toddlers because they don't want to wear a mask."

Official absentee figures for schools will not  be released by the province until early December.

The Halifax Regional Centre for Education told CBC News in an email that it will soon provide a statement on the matter.