N.S. government working on plan to reopen schools to public

·2 min read

The Nova Scotia government isn't ready to allow public access to schools after hours because of the COVID-19 pandemic, but plans are in the works to change that.

"Our focus has been on getting back to school and making sure that's going smoothly, and now we're in a position where we can look at enhancing access," said Education Minister Zach Churchill.

"We'll have more to say early next week on that, on what that looks like specifically."

Churchill said having schools open after hours has been a bigger challenge for the government. The primary obstacle is having enough cleaning staff to sanitize schools after hours.

Nowhere to go as winter approaches

Thom Oomen, a member of an adult indoor soccer league in Inverness County, said a decision from the province can't come soon enough.

He said with winter coming, people living in rural areas need better access to indoor recreation facilities.

"This year we've been playing outside, obviously, and we've switched to weekends and we're trying our best, but the temperatures are dropping," Oomen told CBC Radio's Information Morning Cape Breton.

Oomen and his team typically use the gymnasium at Dalbrae Academy in Mabou during the winter months.

Rural areas have fewer indoor spaces

He said people living in rural areas have little or no access to gyms and other indoor recreational pursuits.

For example, he said, Inverness County used to offer yoga, tai chi, painting, knitting, volleyball, basketball and badminton, among other programs.

"Cities have soccer domes and rec centres, yoga studios and that kind of stuff. And in Inverness County, all we have is our schools," said Oomen.

"The same thing is true in Richmond and Victoria and parts of [Cape Breton Regional Municipality], too, and really all across the province."

In addition, he said, some rural schools house the community library and they are also closed to the public.

Communications Nova Scotia
Communications Nova Scotia

Oomen works in a community setting for people with developmental disabilities and said he understands the need for pandemic health restrictions.

"I work for L'Arche Cape Breton, so I do not want to see COVID spreading in Nova Scotia and risking my friends at L'Arche and myself and my family, but I think we have to be honest," he said.

"The Atlantic Bubble and Nova Scotia have done really well with COVID ... it's not spreading in the community like it is in Ontario and Quebec and other parts of the country.

"Public health isn't just about COVID. It's about physical activity and reducing the chances of disease."

Oomen and his soccer league have reached out to politicians and Education Department officials and are promoting a Facebook page called Reopen Rural Community Schools Nova Scotia to raise awareness and get the rules changed.