Parents, teachers' union call for school closures amid Halifax COVID-19 exposures

·3 min read
A classroom is seen in this file photo. The Nova Scotia Teachers Union says it believes there is community spread in several Halifax schools, though that has not been confirmed by Public Health.  (Evan Mitsui/CBC - image credit)
A classroom is seen in this file photo. The Nova Scotia Teachers Union says it believes there is community spread in several Halifax schools, though that has not been confirmed by Public Health. (Evan Mitsui/CBC - image credit)

Parents and teachers at a Halifax family of schools dealing with multiple COVID-19 exposures are asking the province to take stronger action to deal with the situation.

The Halifax West High family of schools has sent out 22 exposure notices in the last two weeks.

All of the schools remain open, but the Nova Scotia Teachers Union says attendance has plunged as parents keep their kids home.

Meaghan Speck has two sons in different grades who attend Duc D'Anville Elementary School in Clayton Park, which has sent out seven exposure notifications in the last two weeks.

Because the elder boy has received two close-contact notices — most recently for Monday — he's not allowed to attend school. But his younger brother, who has a heart condition, is permitted to go.

"It's very hard for us as parents right now to know what to do," said Speck, who is keeping both kids at home this week. It means they will have missed three full weeks of school before mid-October.

Blair Rhodes/CBC
Blair Rhodes/CBC

Schools should be shut for cleaning, tracing: parent

She said the current policy means her elder son may have been exposed to COVID-19 and infected his sibling, who would then take it back to school.

"If they closed the school down, [my husband] could take time off, paid," Speck said. "But if we want to keep our own kids home for peace of mind because of what's going on, that doesn't happen."

Speck would like to see a return to the previous policy where such schools were shut down for at least a few days for a deep cleaning and to allow time for contact tracing.

NSTU president Paul Wozney said the union believes there is community spread in Duc D'Anville, Clayton Park Junior High and Halifax West High, though Public Health has not formally said so.

"Every day there are additional exposures and positive cases in those buildings," he said Tuesday.

Teachers' union calls for circuit-breaker

Wozney also called for a return to the circuit-breaker approach of closing affected schools until the situation is under control. That could also let teachers switch to online teaching.

He said teachers and parents have reported less than half of the students at Duc D'Anville are attending some days. He attributes that to parental anxiety and a lack of guidance from the provincial government.

"There are many, many classes that are being required to self-isolate because they've been flagged as close contacts of known cases," he said. "So it really begs the question as to whether or not those schools are actually places where quality learning and teaching are happening."

He said that's not fair to students who stay home and receive no education.

"We're going to have winners and losers on the basis of attendance that's driven by fear and it would be a shame," he said.

Notification policies

Education Minister Becky Druhan did not respond to requests for an interview. Her department decides to close schools or keep them open.

No one from Nova Scotia Health or the province's Public Health office would be interviewed by CBC News, but the health authority did provide some information.

Spokesperson Carla Adams said when Public Health learns about a case of COVID-19 at a school, affected staff and students are usually notified within a few hours in a letter.

The letter is sent in English and translated when necessary.

"Everyone in the school receives a general letter advising that there are identified cases connected to the school," she said. "Then a separate letter goes to anyone identified as a close contact with further directions."

Parents of students who have had close contact with someone who tested positive should also get a text.

She said there is no backlog on contact tracing.

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