Nova Scotia teachers being asked to provide work to students absent due to COVID

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The Department of Education and Early Childhood Development says a memo sent to teachers doesn't include any new responsibilities for teachers, but the Nova Scotia Teachers Union is unsure if that's true. (Jane Robertson/CBC - image credit)
The Department of Education and Early Childhood Development says a memo sent to teachers doesn't include any new responsibilities for teachers, but the Nova Scotia Teachers Union is unsure if that's true. (Jane Robertson/CBC - image credit)

The Nova Scotia Teachers Union is trying to determine whether a memo sent by the Department of Education and Early Childhood Development on Saturday means changes to the way teachers will have to work.

Teachers across the province were emailed a memo Saturday evening.

The memo asks them to make work and assignments available to families whose children are absent from school. It included no details about how it is expected to be done.

"I think one of the alarms that was raised was the lack of detail in this letter," union president Paul Wozney said in an interview Sunday.

"You know, it's fine to write letters with sort of sweeping statements, but the devil is always in the details."

Wozney said he has concerns about teacher burnout in a time where stress is high and staffing shortages are a worry.

Minister of Education and Early Childhood Development Becky Druhan said the memo doesn't represent anything new.

CBC
CBC

"What we're requesting of teachers is nothing that they're not used to doing," Druhan said. "This is tried-and-true practices that they have for ensuring that students who have to be absent have access to in-class materials."

She said the memo will be put into practice on a case-by-case basis.

She said the specifics will "play out from class to class" based on the situation in each classroom and each school.

On Friday, the regional centres for education and the CSAP reported to CBC News that student absences for the first week back were either normal for this time of year or slightly above average.

But, the memo sent Saturday said some students "need to remain home at this time for a variety of reasons, such as sickness or COVID-19 anxiety."

Wozney said he is concerned the memo means that parents are keeping their children home out of fear of the Omicron variant.

"I would say the memo is further evidence that the system is experiencing significant strain," he said. "We're only one week of in-person learning back in session. We're already starting to feel the pressure of a lack of parental confidence."

Teachers will 'honour their obligations'

Wozney said the duties of teachers as they relate to students who are absent from in-person learning are detailed in their collective agreement.

"Teachers always have and they always will honour their obligations under the collective agreement," he said.

He said there is a way this could be done without violating teachers' rights, but he is worried about room for adaptation and is hoping for some standardized practices.

Wozney said there is a meeting of a learning continuity planning group on Monday morning that will include people from the Education Department and union members.

"I hope what comes of that meeting is very, very clear guidance that applies across all schools across the entire province."

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