Nova Scotia's education minister says there are three school options families should prepare for when public school resumes in the fall.
Zach Churchill said the options are being back to school full time, reducing attendance to 50 per cent and doing the other half remotely, or — particularly if there is another COVID-19 outbreak — students working virtually from home.
"Hopefully, we can be at 100 per cent. We know kids are going to do their best when they're in school," Churchill told reporters on Thursday.
"What we're doing is the planning work necessary for these contingencies ... We all have to prepare for that."
Churchill also said they have purchased personal protective equipment and hand sanitizer for schools and that new cleaning protocols will be in place.
The province has said the learning plan will be released in late July, but the president of the Nova Scotia Teachers Union wants to see that date moved up.
"It's been a really long four months for everybody," Paul Wozney told CBC's Information Morning on Thursday, adding that they wanted to get more information before the last school year ended.
"People are emotionally raw and to spend the summer on pins and needles about what may or may not happen is not a healthy way to spend a time that people really need to recharge and renew."
Wozney also said that only gives parents one month to make child-care plans if schools are not open to 100 per cent capacity.
"Those are solutions that you can't find on short notice. It's quite possible that even with two and a half months notice, people can't find them," he said.
"So timely communication is really important and it's something that we called on the government to provide early in the process. It's still possible, but we're not there yet."
Churchill said they are "working on it as quickly as possible" and that they have created an improved at-home learning program if students have to work online again.
Remote learning creates 'winners and losers'
Last week, the Official Opposition presented its vision for what the new school year should look like and called out the Liberal government for not releasing their plan sooner.
Churchill said last week the province was working with 22,000 surveys from parents, as well as feedback from students, teachers and administrators to develop the learning plan.
Wozney said on Thursday that the quality of experience that parents, students and teachers report varies widely, adding that remote learning tends to work better for older students and it's the Primary to Grade 2 students that struggle the most with remote learning.
"I think if anything, emergency remote learning on a full-time basis has taught us that it really creates winners and losers. There are kids that are able to participate and others who simply are not capable," he said.
"We can't rely on quality education on a remote basis in the same way that we can when kids are attending in person."
Wozney said he also hopes to see the province do something to address the digital divide in Nova Scotia, both for students and teachers.
"Internet access is problematic because either people can't afford it or it's physically unavailable," he said, adding that 30 per cent of Nova Scotians don't have reliable broadband access.
He said ideally, they will be able to identify who needs devices and connections early in the school year, so that if they have to switch to remote learning, they are more prepared.
On Tuesday, the Halifax Regional Centre for Education sent out an email to families that said while the learning plan will be shared in late July by the province, exact updates for reopening won't be available until August.
The email, which came from Elwin LeRoux, regional executive director, also included a link to his year-end report. In that report, it said a blended model of in-person and virtual supports will still be available to students this summer.
At-home learning packages will also be sent out on July 6 and Aug. 10.
They are also asking families to register now for transportation so they can get accurate numbers of the demand.
"The underlying factor in determining the plan's approach will be the general health of Nova Scotians," LeRoux said in the report.
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